PHOENIX - Immigrant rights advocates urged a federal appeals court on Monday to halt Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's order denying driver's licenses for young immigrants who have gotten work permits and avoided deportation under an Obama administration policy, arguing that Arizona's policy is unconstitutional because it's trumped by federal law.
They filed their 77-page opening brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, seeking to overturn a May decision by a federal judge in Phoenix that denied a request for an order prohibiting the policy.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell rejected the argument that the policy was unconstitutional, but said the immigrant rights advocates are likely to succeed in arguing that the state lets some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses yet won't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit.
Attorneys for Brewer didn't immediately return messages Monday.
Last summer, the Obama administration took administrative steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation. Applicants for the deferment program must have come to the U.S. 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 a GED program, or have served in the military. They also were allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit.
Arizona's policy allows anyone with lawful immigration status to get a driver's license, and more than 500 immigrants with work permits have obtained driver's licenses in recent years.
But Arizona officials have said they don't want to extend driver's licenses to those in the new program because they don't believe the youths will be able to stay in the country legally.
Brewer's lawyers argued that Obama's policy isn't federal law and the state has the authority to distinguish between immigrants with work permits who are on the path toward permanent residency and those benefiting from Obama's policy.
The state's lawyers argued Arizona isn't violating its own policy by refusing to grant licenses to the immigrants in the program, because the youths haven't been granted legal protections by Congress.
Immigrant rights advocates filed their lawsuit in November on behalf of five young-adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. from Mexico as children.
They were granted deferred-deportation protections under the Obama administration's policy but were denied driver's licenses in Arizona.