In August, activists protest an executive order from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer… (Ross D. Franklin, Associated…)
A contingent of civil and immigrant rights organizations launched a lawsuit Thursday against Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, challenging an executive order she issued that denies driver's licenses to some youths who recently received immigration relief and work permits under a new Obama administration program.
"This lawsuit is important because it's basically about the rights of young people to go about their daily lives and ability to be able to support their families," said Shiu-Ming Cheer, coauthor of the suit and immigration attorney with the National Immigration Law Center.
Brewer's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit argues that the Republican governor's state policy is unconstitutional and challenges it on two legal fronts.
First, the suit argues that only the federal government has the authority to determine who is in the country illegally.
Second, the complaint alleges that the state mandate violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because it specifically denies driver's licenses to this particular group of work permit recipients, whereas others with work permits are eligible for the benefit.
Brewer issued the executive order in August in response to Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some youths who are in the country illegally from deportation. In addition, it authorizes them to live and work in the United States for two years. It's unclear whether the program will be continued.
In other states, deferred deportation has allowed thousands of young people to apply for driver's licenses.
Brewer's order states that Obama's executive order does not grant the youths "any lawful or authorized status and does not entitle them to any additional public benefit."
That move came as a blow to Alejandra Lopez, who applied for the program soon after it took effect and went to the driver's licensing office a day after she received her work permit this fall. She was turned away.
Her lack of a driver's license has become a major obstacle. Recently, she couldn't make it to a work interview in Tempe because she couldn't drive. If her 2-year-old son falls ill and needs to be driven to the doctor, she has to call her husband at work. She'd hoped to move out of her mother's home and rent an apartment, but the manager there couldn't show her a unit because she lacked an Arizona identification.
Lopez, 19, has become increasingly dependent on her husband, who is a U.S. citizen. She tries to take the bus, but they're scarce in her neighborhood of Peoria, so she often walks.
"Honestly, I believe that I'm like everyone else. It's just tearing me apart ... I just want an equal chance like everybody else," Lopez said.
Lopez is one of five plaintiffs on the lawsuit, which was also filed on behalf of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an immigrant-youth-led organization. The American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Immigration Law Center form the coalition behind the suit.
About 1.76 million youths in the nation are eligible for Obama's deferred action program, including 80,000 from Arizona, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.