PHOENIX -- A civil rights group is claiming a new memo from immigration officials proves that Jan Brewer is legally wrong in denying driver licenses to individuals in the president's "deferred action' program.
The document, actually a list of frequently asked questions, said anyone who is approved for the program "is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to be present in the United States.' The memo was issued by Friday U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
That language may undermine the order issued by the governor last year in directing that the state not issue licenses those in the program, formally known as "deferred action childhood arrival.'
Brewer is not disputing that the president, in announcing the program last year, is free to decide that his administration will not pursue anyone for deportation. About 1.4 million people nationwide and about 80,000 in Arizona are eligible.
But the governor says a 1996 law specifically requires that anyone given an Arizona driver's license provide proof that his or her presence is "authorized under federal law.' She said the DACA program does not authorize anyone to be in the United States but simply says they will not be deported, at least for the time being.
Michael Tan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the memo undercuts the governor's contention.
"The federal guidance issued (Friday) sends a clear message to the states: These young immigrants, who were brought to the country as children, are authorized to stay here,' he said.
And Tan noted that those found eligible are given federal papers allowing them to work legally in this country. He said the licenses become a necessary part of ensuring they can drive to school and work.
Brewer, sued last month in federal court by the ACLU and others over her directive, is not accepting either the memo or the ACLU interpretation as proof she is wrong.
"The governor and her legal team are reviewing the guidance provided Friday by DHS and will be determining the proper course of action for the state of Arizona as it pertains to the issuance of driver's licenses for DACA recipients,' said gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson.
Brewer has admitted the state has given licenses to others who have been granted deferred action on an individual basis. But her attorneys said those deferrals were specifically authorized by law; the DACA program was done by executive fiat.
But that difference may be one without distinction, at least to federal officials.
Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said his agency will not comment directly on issues of state law like driver licenses. But he said the relief given to individuals under DACA "is identical for immigration purposes to the relief obtained by any person who receives deferred action.'
The ACLU says Arizona is one of four states that have specifically denied licenses to those in the program, the others being Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa. A lawsuit similar to the one filed in Phoenix against Brewer is pending in Michigan.