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Arizona Gives Up Challenge To Immigrant Driver's Licenses

Arizona Department of Transportation

The state of Arizona says it will no longer fight giving driver's licenses to certain immigrants who have work permits and protections from deportation.

The state announced Wednesday that it had settled with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit originally filed in September 2016 after the state stopped granting licenses to immigrants who have deferred action, such as victims of domestic violence or those who are awaiting humanitarian visas.

Arizona was at that time the only state in the country that wouldn't issue licenses to immigrants with deferred action.

A federal judge in June ordered the state to end that policy, and many of the immigrants affected have been able to get licenses since then. But the state had filed an appeal.

About 1,300 immigrants with deferred action may have been affected by the policy, said plaintiffs' attorney Nicholas Espíritu of the National Immigration Law Center.

"I think what's important for Arizonans to really know is that Arizona has changed its policy and that now thankfully we're back to a place where everyone who can work in Arizona can get a driver's license and continue with their lives," Espíritu said.

The case has been a years-long battle that started when former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced that young immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as "Dreamers," would not be able to get driver's licenses even though they now had permits to work and protections from deportation.

While in the midst of that battle, the state stopped granting licenses and license renewals to the smaller group of immigrants with deferred action who are not Dreamers.

The state lost its battle to deny Dreamers licenses, and it was forced by a judge in late 2014 to give them licenses.

But it never gave them back to the other set of deferred action recipients who aren't Dreamers, arguing that it could be held liable for issuing a license to someone who wasn't authorized to be in the country and that someone who has a driver's license could illegally obtain federal and state benefits to which they are not entitled.

Attorneys who filed the lawsuit in 2016 said there was no evidence immigrants could get benefits just because they have a license. They said the victims of that policy included a single mother who was struggling with cancer and a victim of domestic abuse. They argued the policy was unconstitutional.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, said the governor was dismissed from the lawsuit before the settlement and pointed toward his prior statements in support of Dreamers. But the governor's administration had for years challenged the lawsuit, appealing an earlier injunction that forced the state to grant everyone with work permits licenses.

Neither party would say what the terms of the settlement were, citing confidentiality.