PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday told state agencies to deny benefits, and even driver's licenses, to illegal immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. under the Obama administration "deferred-action" program, saying they still will not be here legally.
In an executive order, the governor said the deferred-action program for those who arrived as children does not grant them any legal status, which makes them ineligible for public benefits under the terms of a 2004 voter-enacted measure.
"Allowing more than an estimated 80,000 deferred-action recipients improper access to state or local benefits … will have significant and lasting impacts on the Arizona budget, its health-care system and additional public benefits that Arizona taxpayers fund," the order reads.
So she directed all state agencies to change their operations, policies and rules - and statutes if necessary - to prevent those in this category from getting benefits.
Brewer also said driver's licenses will be off-limits to those in the deferred-action program because state law prohibits the Department of Transportation from issuing licenses "unless an applicant submits proof satisfactory to ADOT that the applicant's presence in the United States is authorized under federal law."
But that directive flies in the face of current ADOT policies, which make licenses available to anyone with an Employment Authorization Document issued by the federal government, without further documentation.
An attorney who specializes in immigration law said the governor's action is illegal.
Regina Jefferies acknowledged that those who will be part of the deferred-action program will not have legal status. What they have, however, is "lawful presence."
"They've got permission to be here," she said.
Jefferies said the whole concept of deferred action, while vastly expanded under the president's announcement, is not new. She said federal immigration officials have similarly classified others in the past, such as victims of domestic violence, and made their presence legal.
Jefferies said that classification will not entitle those in the new program to benefits such as food stamps. But she said anyone who is granted deferred action can sue if the state denies him a driver's license.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss disagrees and will not back down.
"What President Obama has done confers neither lawful status nor authorized presence," he said. "All they've done is defer these individuals' prosecution and deportation."
He acknowledged the state Motor Vehicle Division has accepted federally issued work permits in the past as proof of legal presence to get a driver's license. But he said that no longer will be the case, at least not without other documentation the Brewer administration believes is proof of legal presence.
But those work cards, by themselves, will not be enough.
"As DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) has told us repeatedly, these individuals who are granted deferred action do not have lawful status," Benson said.
Brewer's move comes the same day the DHS began accepting applications from what some organizations have said are a potential 1.7 million individuals whom the Obama administration has decided not to try to deport.
In general, those eligible must have arrived in this country before they turned 16 and not yet turned 30. They also need to currently be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained an equivalency diploma, or be honorably discharged veterans.
The program offers a two-year deferment of any prosecution for being in this country illegally, a deferment that is infinitely renewable - at least under the current administration.
They also will gain permission to work legally in the United States. And it is the issuance of those work documents, Brewer fears, that might otherwise open the door for those in this group to get benefits otherwise reserved for citizens and legal residents.
Benson acknowledged the order also would result in a situation in which those who would now be entitled to work would be unable to get the driver's licenses they need to get to their jobs, a problem he said, that "was created not by the governor. This problem was created by the president's action."
Jefferies said she believes those in the deferred-action program may also have some claim to lower in-state tuition at Arizona community colleges and universities - a point Benson also said Brewer also disputes.
"It's up to states to try to do all they can to enforce their existing laws," Benson said. "The governor's going to do everything she can to minimize the damage from the president's deferred-action move and to limit the cost to taxpayers."
On StarNet: Read the executive order signed by Gov. Jan Brewer at azstarnet.com/pdf