Just as dreamers in Arizona eagerly began applying for the Obama administration’s deferred action program, Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order Wednesday directing state agencies to deny them driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards given to them under the program.
Arizona laws prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving taxpayer-funded public benefits, such as driver’s licenses and state identification cards. Because the deferred action program does not grant undocumented youth legal status, Brewer’s order says the state is not obligated to grant them public benefits.
Those who apply for deferred action and are accepted will still be granted work authorization and will still be protected from deportation.
Republicans across the state applauded Brewer’s decision saying undocumented young immigrants should not be given any benefits because they are in the country illegally. In the past, Brewer has called the temporary federal program “blatant political amnesty.”
News about the governor’s executive order spread quickly among dreamers in Arizona. Dozens of them, appalled by the news, marched to the State Capitol to protest Brewer’s order. About 20 of them spent the night there. In the morning, they were planing to protest the governor’s executive order outside her office.
“We’re extremely upset,” Reyna Montoya, a dreamer and recent college graduate, told VOXXI. “We are trying to find a solution to this issue and all she’s doing is creating problems.”
Montoya said this should serve as “a wake up call” for undocumented youth to get involved with efforts to implement a permanent solution such as the DREAM Act, a bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who meet some of the same requirements needed to apply for deferred action.
Dulce Vazquez, a 21-year-old dreamer from Arizona, reiterated that message. Vazquez said she was never involved with the DREAM Act movement until four months ago when she could no longer afford to pay out-of-state tuition to attend college. Arizona requires undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition and bans them from receiving federal and state financial aid.
“I want people to think about what just happened, and I want them to join us in fighting this,” Vazquez said. “Nothing is going to change just by sitting at home.”
Vazquez said the news made her “angry” and added, “It’s unfair that others are going to get their licenses and we won’t.”
Supporters who have stood behind dreamers in Arizona and have defended them once again did so on Wednesday. Carmen Cornejo was one of them. She told VOXXI undocumented youth “are very deserving” of the benefits offered by the deferred action program and she was “very disappointed” with the governor.
“This was an opportunity for change and to address the problems we have with the nation’s broken immigration system,” she said.
Cornejo also questioned the legality of Brewer’s executive order and pledged that she will join dreamers in fighting it.
But Jose Peñalosa, an attorney from Arizona, said Brewer is legally allowed to deny dreamers driver’s licenses, state-issued identifications and other public benefits. “She’s the executive of the state and she controls all the state agencies, so she does have the power to do this,” he said.
Peñalosa said this could spread to other states unless President Barack Obama changes the language of the deferred action program to say dreamers are temporarily granted legal status. Currently, the program protects them from deportation but does not give them a lawful status.
Like Montoya, Peñalosa said this should serve as “a call to action” for dreamers to get involved.
“We need to come together now more than ever, because we know the governor is after the students and the program,” he said. “If this doesn’t motivate people to get involved, then I don’t know what will.”