Jan Brewer orders denial of benefits to illegal immigrants Obama is allowing to stay

Article author: 
Howard Fischer
Article publisher: 
East Valley Tribune, Tempe AZ
Article date: 
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

Saying they still will not be here legally, Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday told state agencies to deny benefits and even driver's licenses to those illegal immigrants the Obama administration will allow to remain in the country.

In an executive order, the governor said the "deferred action'' program for those who arrived as children does not actually grant them any legal status. And that, she said, makes those in this category 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 say that licenses are available to anyone with an Employment Authorization Document issued by the federal government without further documentation.

Potentially more significant, an attorney who specializes in immigration law says 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.

In fact, 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 things like food stamps. But she said anyone who is granted deferred action can sue -- she believes successfully -- if the state denies any of these people 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 MVD has accepted federally issued work permits in the past as proof of legal presence to get a driver's license. But he said that will no longer be the case, at least not without other documentation the Brewer administration believes is proof of legal presence.

And those work cards, by themselves, will not be enough.

"As DHS 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 Department of Homeland Security began accepting applications from what some organizations have said are a potential 1.7 million individuals who the Obama administration has decided not to try to deport.

In general, those eligible arrived in this country before they turned 16 and are not yet 30. They also need to currently be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained an equivalency diploma, or are honorably discharged veterans.

Under the terms of the program, individuals can seek what amounts to 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.

More to the point, they also will gain permission to work legally in the United States. And it is the issuance of those work documents, Brewer fears, which 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 where those who would now be entitled to work will be unable to get the driver's licenses they need to get to their jobs. But he said that is irrelevant.

"This problem was created not by the governor,'' he said. "This problem was created by the president's action to allow these individuals to remain in this country indefinitely and to be provided work permits while they're here.''

Benson said nothing in Brewer's order affects the tuition that those not in this country legally have to pay to attend community colleges and universities. He said it is long settled state law that only those who are citizens or legal residents of the United States, or have "lawful immigration status,'' are entitled to pay the lower rates residents pay.

But Jefferies said she believes that those in the deferred action program may have some claim to the lower tuition.

Benson sidestepped questions of what Brewer thinks should happen, long term, to those who were brought here as children and currently have no legal status.

"That's not what this is about,'' he said.

"President Obama created this problem by picking and choosing what individuals can remain in this country and picking and choosing what parts of federal law he intends to enforce,'' Benson said.

"And it's up to states to try to do all they can to enforce their existing laws'' he continued. "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.''