ARIZONA – As young undocumented immigrants on Wednesday celebrated the start of a new federal program allowing them to apply to stay and work temporarily in the United States, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order telling state agencies not to grant driver’s licenses to program participants.
Brewer’s order, issued late in the day, reiterates that state agencies are required to deny licenses and other public benefits to all undocumented immigrants, even those who gain approval under President Barack Obama’s new “deferred action” program.
Wednesday was the first day that as many as 1.76 million undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 nationwide who were brought to this country as minors could begin applying to stay and work in the U.S. for two years. As many as 80,000 in Arizona could be eligible to apply.
Earlier in the day, Maricopa County Community Colleges announced that students who get work authorization through deferred action would be eligible to apply for in-state tuition, but hours later, district officials said they would reconsider the decision because of Brewer’s order.
State law currently requires undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition, which costs significantly more.
“It’s really, really disappointing,” Dulce Vazquez, 21, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who lives in Phoenix, said about the prospect of still being denied a driver’s license.
About 150 to 200 people, many of them undocumented immigrants, marched to the state Capitol on Wednesday night to protest Brewer’s order.
“She shattered my dreams today,” said Lorenzo Santillan, 24, of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, one of the protesters.
Members of the coalition said Brewer’s order shows the deferred-action program is only a stopgap measure. They said that a more permanent solution is needed, such as the Dream Act, a law that has languished in Congress that would allow undocumented immigrants to eventually gain citizenship if they attended college or joined the military.
“It’s a reality check for everyone who thinks deferred action is the best thing out there,” said Yadira Garcia, 23, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who lives in Phoenix.
Brewer has been sharply critical of Obama’s immigration policies, saying he hasn’t done enough to control illegal immigration or secure the border. She has called the deferred-action program “backdoor amnesty.”
The program has created confusion in many states unsure how to treat undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action.
White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have repeatedly stated that receiving deferred action does not amount to legal residency or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, only a chance to stay and work in the U.S. temporarily without fear of being deported.
In her executive order, Brewer essentially said that undocumented immigrants granted deferred action will not be recategorized as lawful residents. The order is intended to cut through some confusion created by the president’s program, Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said.
“As the (DHS) has said repeatedly … these individuals do not have lawful status,” Benson told The Republic. “They are able to remain in the country and not be deported and not be prosecuted, but they do not have lawful status.”
Regina Jefferies, a Phoenix immigration lawyer who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Brewer’s order contradicts state law.
She said that deferred action existed before the program started on Wednesday and that there are “many, many” instances in Arizona of immigrants granted deferred action for other reasons who have received licenses.
She said Brewer will likely face a lawsuit.
Brewer’s order bars undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action from public benefits that include state-subsidized child care; KidsCare, a children’s health-insurance program; unemployment benefits; business and professional licenses and government contracts, Benson said.
Brewer’s order does not address tuition to community colleges or the state’s universities.
On Wednesday, the Maricopa Community Colleges announced that undocumented immigrants who received work authorization through deferred action would be able to apply for in-state tuition because federal work authorization cards are among the documents that qualify to establish “legal presence” in the state.
But after Brewer’s order, colleges spokesman Tom Gariepy said officials were reconsidering the decision.
Carmen Cornejo of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition said thousands of undocumented immigrants dropped out of college when they were forced to pay out-of-state tuition, which at Maricopa Community Colleges is $317 per credit compared with $76 per credit for in-state students.
Attorneys for the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body that oversees the three state universities, are still analyzing what effect the deferred action could have on tuition, said Katie Paquet, a regents spokeswoman.
Benson, however, referred to a state law stating that those who are not “a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who is without lawful immigration status is not entitled to classification as an in-state student.”
“It’s illegal,” Benson said. “Any public institution that is seeking to grant in-state tuition to these individuals, should beware: It’s against the law.”