A move by Gov. Jan Brewer to deny driver licenses to illegal immigrants in the federal government's deferred action program may not be legal.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration began taking applications from those who arrived here as children to remain without fear of being deported. They also will be granted permission to work legally in this country. Brewer's reaction was to direct state agencies not to grant any public benefits to those in the program. That includes not just things like food stamps but also a driver's license. Press aide Matthew Benson said that is based on existing state law which says only people legally present in the country can get a license.
"Gov. Brewer cannot undo the president's action to provide these people with deferred action and temporary work permits," Benson said. "But she can do her part to uphold state law, ensuring they don't receive Arizona driver's licenses."
But immigration attorney Regina Jefferies said the governor does not understand what the president has done.
"Someone granted deferred action is a lawful period of stay," Jefferies said. "So they're not unlawfully present. They're lawfully present. They've got permission to be here from the immigration service. They don't have a lawful status."
Jefferies said that latter category includes people on visitor and student visas. She said the difference is crucial since state law requires only lawful presence to get a license -- making any effort to deny one those in the deferred action program illegal.