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Arizona spars over licenses for young immigrants

PHOENIX -- Immigrant rights advocates want Gov. Jan Brewer's ban on driver's licenses for young immigrants who have gotten work permits under a new Obama administration policy declared unconstitutional.

The groups asked a judge Monday to refuse Brewer's motion to dismiss their lawsuit challenging her policy. They said the policy is discriminatory and violates federal law.

Brewer's lawyers responded in court documents that the Obama administration policy isn't federal law and that those pushing the lawsuit can't support their allegation that they can't keep a job or go to school without a license.

Arizona officials "face potentially serious ramifications if they give driver's licenses to a large group of people who might not be entitled to them," according to the court filings.

The Obama administration recently took steps to shield as many as 800,000 immigrants from deportation. They also were allowed to apply for a two-year renewable work permit.

Applicants must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16, be younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, be in school or have graduated from high school or a GED program, or have served in the military.

Roughly 80,000 immigrants in Arizona are eligible for deferred status, according to state estimates.

Brewer's "political disagreement with the federal government's discretionary decision is not a proper justification for denying licenses to individuals granted deferred action," lawyers representing the immigrants wrote in their motion Monday, adding, "the real reason for the challenged policy was the desire to discriminate against a politically unpopular group."

The Department of Homeland Security announced last month that those who receive deferred action from deportation through President Barack Obama's new immigration policy are considered to be lawfully present in the U.S.

Immigrant rights advocates filed the lawsuit in November on behalf of five young-adult immigrants in Arizona who were brought to the United States from Mexico as children. They were granted deferred deportation protections under the Obama administration's policy but were denied licenses in Arizona.

The five immigrants aren't seeking money damages. They want a judge to bar Arizona from denying driver's licenses to immigrants who were granted deferred deportation status by the federal government. It seeks class-action status that would let all other young immigrants in Arizona who were granted the deferred-deportation protection join the lawsuit.

The three groups leading the lawsuit are the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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