PHOENIX - A civil rights group is claiming a new memo from immigration officials proves Gov. Jan Brewer is legally wrong in denying driver's licenses to individuals in the president's "deferred action" program.
The document, which is actually a list of frequently asked questions, said anyone approved for the program "is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to be present in the United States." It was issued Friday by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
ACLU representatives contend that language undermines the order issued by the governor last year, directing the state not issue licenses to those in the program, formally known as "deferred action childhood arrival."
Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said his agency will not comment directly on issues of state law like driver's licenses, and he said he could not comment on the ACLU interpretation.
Brewer contends that while the president is free to decide not to pursue some individuals for deportation, a 1996 law specifically requires anyone given an Arizona driver's license must provide proof their 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, an ACLU staff attorney, said the memo undercuts the governor's contention.
He said 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. Gubernatorial press aide Mat-thew Benson said the governor and her legal team are reviewing the memo and will determine the appropriate action.
Brewer acknowledges the state has given licenses to others who have been granted deferred action under other programs. But her attorneys said those deferrals were specifically authorized by law; the DACA program was done by executive order.
However, Boogaard noted Homeland Security sees no legal difference between those in the DACA program and those who have gotten other forms of deferred action.
The ACLU says Arizona is one of four states that have denied licenses to those in the program, the others being Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa. A similar lawsuit is pending in Michigan.