AZ Immigrant Driver's License Ban Fox Championed Inadvertently Affects U.S. Citizens


A Fox News-endorsed executive order issued by Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer that bars young undocumented immigrants with lawful presence from obtaining driver's licenses from the state has also made it harder for American citizens moving to Arizona to obtain driver's licenses. Fox personalities repeatedly defended and praised the measure, arguing that granting these licenses would potentially lead to terrorist attacks.

In June 2012, the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which exempted eligible undocumented immigrants under 31 from deportation on a renewable two-year period. Those who qualify are eligible to obtain work permits and Social Security cards. Though they do not have legal status, they are considered to be lawfully present in the United States under the program.

In August 2012, Brewer issued an executive order barring these immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses and photo IDs, claiming that state law barred Arizona from making these immigrants eligible for such state benefits.

While Brewer's order did indeed prevent DACA recipients in Arizona from qualifying for driver's licenses, a recent investigation conducted by the Arizona Republic found that it "also made it more difficult for people relocating to Arizona to get licenses by making them produce a passport, birth certificate or other document proving they are in the U.S. legally."

Describing the case of how Arizona refused to grant a new driver's license to a Kansas resident unless he could prove he was lawfully in the country, the Republic reported:

Before Brewer's order, new residents could use out-of-state driver's licenses as primary identification to get a license in Arizona.

That's because, like Arizona, most other states require applicants to prove that their presence in the U.S. is authorized in order to get a license.

But after the order, state transportation officials were forced to stop accepting out-of-state licenses as primary identification because most other states are allowing deferred-action recipients to get driver's licenses.

Documents obtained by The Arizona Republic through a public-records request show that state transportation officials had to scramble to create new identification requirements, which also made it more difficult for people relocating to Arizona to get licenses by making them produce a passport, birth certificate or other document proving they are in the U.S. legally, the documents show.

In Arizona, out-of-state licenses now are acceptable only as secondary documents.

To get a license, residents must show a primary identification that establishes legal presence and secondary identification that helps prove their identity.

Only "enhanced" driver's licenses remain acceptable as primary identification, but only five states issue them: New York, Michigan, Vermont, Washington and Minnesota, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and media reports. Enhanced licenses are issued only to U.S. citizens. As a result, residents relocating from other states without enhanced licenses have had to use other forms of identification.

The article further noted that, according to the state's Motor Vehicle Division, "each month, about 12,000 new residents attempt to use out-of-state driver's licenses to get Arizona licenses."

Brewer's order is now being challenged on behalf of DACA recipients by a number of civil and immigrants' rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, saying the order is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The fact that it is now harming the interstate travel of U.S. citizens as well -- a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution -- only deepens the suspect nature of this ill-considered order. As explained by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in the Supreme Court's 1999 decision of Saenz v. Roe:

The "right to travel" discussed in our cases embraces at least three different components. It protects the right of a citizen of one State to enter and to leave another State, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than an unfriendly alien when temporarily present in the second State, and, for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that State.

Fox News, which has championed discriminatory measures that later result in harsh consequences, repeatedly defended Brewer's decision to deny these young immigrants licenses. In one March 22, 2013, segment, anchor Uma Pemmaraju argued that it was a matter of public safety, saying of Brewer: "What about when she raises issues about the safety of the citizens -- the fact that we already have situations that threaten our people here? We don't need another added burden."

In an August 2012 discussion, Fox anchors Greg Jarrett and Brad Blakeman seized on Brewer's order to link deferred-action youths to the 9-11 hijackers and stoke fears that granting licenses to those immigrants would potentially result in more terrorist attacks. Blakeman asserted that the hijackers "used driver's licenses" to "get on planes," and that they did so while here illegally. Jarrett also asked: "Could one argue, Brad, that the president is making it easier for acts of terrorism to be committed?"

On November 30, 2012, America's Newsroom hosted Brewer to explain her position, claiming that "our laws are very clear" on the notion that deferred-action immigrants could not be granted driver's licenses. However, as the Republic had reported a week before, Brewer's order was "a significant change in state policy" -- a fact Fox News did not mention during her interview:

Over the past eight years, Arizona issued licenses and ID cards nearly 40,000 times to non-citizens who had federal employment-authorization documents. Since Brewer's Aug. 15 order, the state has issued more than 1,000 driver's licenses or ID cards to non-citizens with work permits while denying licenses to those with work permits issued through Obama's program.

The data show that despite the state's longstanding practice of issuing driver's licenses to non-citizens with work permits, Brewer has singled out so-called dreamers, denying them driver's licenses even when they have work permits.

Arizona has since expanded its policy to deny all deferred-action immigrants driver's licenses, not just those approved under the Obama administration's DACA.

As of this posting, Fox News has yet to report on the order's unintended consequences.

Posted In
Immigration, Immigration Reform
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