Until now, thousands of young Arizonans have been prevented from getting jobs, going to school, or even attending to sick children – all thanks to Gov. Jan Brewer's ban on granting them driver's licenses.
That situation is set to change soon. A federal appeals court issued a stinging rebuke to the governor in a decision this week. According to the judges, denying these young immigrants the ability to drive harms them irreparably and likely violates their constitutional rights.
The suit was brought by the ACLU and other civil rights groups on behalf of DREAMers – immigrants who have grown up in the United States without documentation and consider this country their home. In 2012, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants DREAMers federal permission to work and to remain in the country. In keeping with her anti-immigrant stance, Gov. Brewer lashed out immediately. She issued an executive order banning Arizona's DACA recipients from getting driver's licenses and called them "illegal people" who shouldn't qualify for a state-issued ID.
One of those people is 24-year-old Korina Iribe, who came to this country at age five. Her DACA status has finally enabled her to afford community college. But she says that without a driver's license she can't rent an apartment, apply for a bank account, or even prove her identity. "To me Governor Brewer's order was an attempt to dehumanize and strip DREAMers of our identities," Korina says. "She wanted us to be treated as second class citizens, and she didn't care at what expense."
In a state where the overwhelming majority of residents drive and only two percent take public transportation, many young Arizonans have little choice but to drive illegally.
Take the case of one of the people in the lawsuit — a single mother who has a five-year-old son with special needs. In order to provide the specialized care he needs, she drives without a license to get him across town to school and to medical appointments. Every time she does so, she endures the agonizing fear that they will be stopped by police and her car impounded. She has a temporary job without health benefits. But when her supervisors recommended her for a permanent position with full benefits, she couldn't apply because it required a driver's license.
Until Arizona follows the court's order, it remains the only state along with Nebraska that denies driver's licenses to DACA recipients. The federal government, the courts, and 48 other states all agree: DACA grantees are legally present in the United States and should be able to work and to provide for their families.
Meanwhile, DREAMers like Korina Iribe are already celebrating. "I am more than ecstatic," she says. "I will finally be able to fill out applications that ask for my Arizona driver's license number, and most importantly, I will be recognized as an Arizonan for the first time."