PHOENIX - Thousands of Arizonans in the federal "deferred action" program won't be getting licenses to drive, at least not now.
On Thursday, Judge David Campbell rejected a request that he order Gov. Jan Brewer to issue licenses to those who have qualified for the program that allows those who arrived as children to remain in the country and even to work.
In a 40-page ruling, Campbell said challengers may eventually prove they are being subjected to unconstitutional unequal treatment by being denied licenses. He acknowledged there is evidence Arizona already issues licenses to some others in similar types of programs, where they are allowed to remain despite technically being in the country illegally.
The judge said that after a full-blown trial he may eventually rule those eligible for deferred action should also be given licenses.
But Campbell said the kind of injunction that these "dreamers" want, ahead of a trial, requires proof they are being irreparably harmed. He said the evidence he has shows that is not the case.
For example, the judge said the challengers contend their inability to get a license hinders their ability to get work, something they are entitled to do under the deferred action plan. And the five specific individuals who sued argued that without licenses they cannot drive their children to medical appointments or attend to other family responsibilities.
"These same individual plaintiffs have acknowledged, however, that they either drive or have readily available alternative means of transportation," Campbell wrote.
"One plaintiff testified that she drove herself to her lawyer's office for her deposition in this case, drives her sister's car to work Monday through Friday of each week, has been driving for about four years and intends to continue driving to work and school in the future," he continued.
"Another plaintiff testified that she drives her mother's car six days a week, has been driving since age 17 and drives herself to college and work."
And Campbell said while one challenger has stopped driving and does commute by light rail and bus, "that inconvenience does not constitute irreparable injury."
The legal fight stems from the decision last year by the Obama administration not to deport certain people brought here illegally as children. The program is formally known as Deferred Action Childhood Arrival.
Those who qualify will be allowed to stay for two years - permission that is renewable - and be allowed to work while they are here.
About 1.4 million people nationwide may qualify, including 80,000 in Arizona.
But the Department of Transportation, on orders from Brewer, is refusing to issue licenses to anyone in the DACA program.
Attorneys for Brewer pointed out a 1996 state law says licenses are available solely to those whose presence in this country is "authorized by federal law," and said an administrative decision by the president and the Department of Homeland Security not to deport them does not make their presence "authorized."
Challengers first argued allowing Arizona to deny licenses to those in the DACA program illegally conflicts with federal law and policy.
Campbell, however, said noting in Brewer's decision interferes with the ability of Congress to set federal immigration policy. He granted Brewer's request that part of the case be thrown out.
But while refusing the request for an injunction, the judge said he is willing to consider an alternate claim that the challengers are the victims of unequal legal treatment.
Campbell noted that DACA is not the only type of deferred action program of the Department of Homeland Security, and those in the other programs have been given state driver's licenses.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson called the denial of the injunction "good news for the state of Arizona" because it allows the current policy to remain in place. While he acknowledged Campbell said he found evidence of unequal treatment of those in the DACA program, he said Brewer is optimistic the judge will uphold the policy.