PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to temporarily put on hold a lower court's decision blocking her denial of driver's licenses to young immigrants now avoiding deportation under an Obama administration policy.
The governor asked the nation's highest court to block the ruling two days after a lower appeals court turned down a similar request.
If the court refuses to put on hold the ruling, 20,000 young immigrants in Arizona who have received protection under the Obama policy would be eligible to get licenses.
Five months ago, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was no legitimate state interest in treating young immigrants who were granted deferred action on deportation differently from other noncitizens who could apply for driver's licenses. Instead, the panel suggested the policy was intended to express hostility toward the young immigrants, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them.
The Obama administration in June 2012 took administrative steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation. Applicants must have come to the United States before they turned 16, be younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, be in school or have graduated from high school or an equivalent program, or have served in the military. They also were allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit.
Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the program.
The governor's attorneys said the driver's license policy grew out of concerns over the liability of giving licenses to people who aren't authorized to be in the country and reducing the risk of licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
Last month, the president took executive actions to spare nearly 5 million people in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
The governor's lawyers predicted that the challengers of Brewer's policy will ultimately argue that an even larger group of immigrants with deferred deportation status should be able to get licenses, too. They say if the state were to prevail at trial, the driver's licenses in question would have to be recalled.
The challengers of Brewer's policy said they will oppose the governor's most recent request. They have until noon Tuesday to respond to the governor's request.
Karen Tumlin, an attorney representing the young immigrants, said the 9th Circuit ruling could be used to argue that the immigrants granted protection under the president's most recent immigration actions should get licenses.
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