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Judge: Arizona Can't Deny Licenses For Certain Immigrants

Arizona cannot deny driver's licenses to certain immigrants who have protections from deportation based on the state's own judgment that the applicants aren't in the country legally, a judge has ruled.

The decision issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell marks the state's second legal defeat in recent years over its denial of driver's licenses to immigrants who have been given protection from deportation by the federal government.

Four years ago, the courts ruled against Arizona in a lengthy battle over then-Gov. Jan Brewer's 2012 executive order that denied licenses to young immigrants who have avoided deportation under an Obama administration policy. The young immigrants were either brought or came to the United States illegally as children.

Eventually, the immigrants in question were able to get licenses. But the rulings focused on only immigrants who received protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A second lawsuit was filed in September 2016 to seek licenses for immigrants who had received other forms of protection from deportation, such as domestic violence survivors and crime victims who were cooperating with law enforcement.

In deciding the second lawsuit, Campbell cited a ruling from the first case in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Arizona strayed into the federal government's power to regulate immigration by creating new classifications for immigrants when it created new driver's license policies.

"The court of appeals explained that 'States enjoy no power with respect to the classification of aliens,' " Campbell wrote.

The judge said Arizona's policy of treating the immigrants in question differently than other immigrants is barred under the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

It's unclear how many immigrants could be affected by the latest decision.

Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, said the governor's office is reviewing the ruling and discussing its legal options with its attorneys.

"We hope now they get the message that this kind of discrimination and this kind of impermissible classification of noncitizens can't continue," said Nicholas Espiritu, one of the lawyers who challenged the driver's license policies. "But we'll definitely be on the lookout if they continue to try to circumvent this ruling."