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9th Clears Way for ‘Dreamer’ Driver Licenses

(CN) - The full 9th Circuit on Monday cleared the way for the issuance of driver's licenses to immigrants who benefit from the federal Dream Act, after denying Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's quixotic campaign to stymie the law through state driving regulations.

Its order comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's proposal of short-term relief for about 4.7 million immigrants who can prove they have been here for five years or more with a clean record.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer bemoaned Obama's recent action as one "that will only further exacerbate the border problem."

She likened it to the federal "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (DACA) program, which in 2012 deferred immigration-related actions against certain young adults under 31 who were brought to the country as children and have lived here continuously, gone to school and not committed any crimes.

In an effort to encourage these migrants to work, the program made them eligible to receive employment-authorization documents.

On the same day DACA took effect in August 2012, Brewer issued an executive order that directed state agencies to prevent DACA recipients from receiving any "state identification, including a driver's license."

She said later that it was primarily designed to deny driver's licenses to "illegal people," the 9th Circuit noted this summer.

The case had gone to the federal appeals court based on a suit from the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and five young migrants who qualify for DACA.

This past July, a three-judge panel reversed U.S. District Judge David Campbell's ruling that denied the challengers an injunction.

"Plaintiffs' inability to obtain driver's licenses likely causes them irreparable harm by limiting their professional opportunities," Judge Harry Pregerson had said for the panel in Pasadena, Calif. "Plaintiffs' ability to drive is integral to their ability to work - after all, eighty-seven percent of Arizona workers commute to work by car. It is unsurprising, then, that plaintiffs' inability to obtain driver's licenses has hurt their ability to advance their careers. Plaintiffs' lack of driver's licenses has prevented them from applying for desirable entry-level jobs, and from remaining in good jobs where they faced possible promotion. Likewise, one plaintiff - who owns his own business - has been unable to expand his business to new customers who do not live near his home. Plaintiffs' lack of driver's licenses has, in short, diminished their opportunity to pursue their chosen professions."

Arizona had petitioned later that month for a panel rehearing or rehearing en banc.

The court denied such relief in a brief order Monday.

Dulce Matuz, the president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, welcomed the appeal's conclusion.

"Governor Brewer has wasted countless taxpayer dollars defending a misguided and harmful policy that has been rejected time and time again by the courts," Matuz said in a statement. "We hope today's announcement allows us to finally apply for the identification document that rightly identifies us as Arizonans."

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, likewise emphasized that today's decision makes "crystal clear that Arizona's quixotic quest to turn immigrants into villains is constitutionally unsound."

"This should serve as a wakeup call for the new governor: Do what's best for your state by allowing everyone who should be able to get a license to do so, so they can drive to school and work and participate fully in their communities," Hincapie added.

Jennifer Chang Newell, staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, echoed this remark.

"The 9th Circuit, District Court, and federal government all agree: Arizona's denial of driver's licenses to hardworking young immigrants violates our constitution," Newell said in a statement. "It is long past time for Gov. Brewer to read the writing on the wall and let the Dreamers drive!"

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