PHOENIX (AP) – The Obama administration has urged a court to reject Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's appeal of a ruling that blocks the state from denying driver's licenses to young immigrants who have avoided deportation under a change ordered by the president.
Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a filing Tuesday that the state policy is trumped by federal law. They argued the state won't accept documents issued to the immigrants in question as proof of their legal presence in the country, yet it continues to accept such records from other immigrants.
"The state has failed to identify any reason why the same documents should not similarly suffice for plaintiffs," the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in a lawsuit by young immigrants who challenged the policy.
The federal government didn't challenge the driver's license policy, but it was asked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to offer input on the case. In July, a three-judge panel of the court blocked the driver's license policy and suggested the rules were intended to express hostility toward the young immigrants.
The governor is now asking for a 15-judge panel to reconsider the ruling. The Obama administration said no such review is warranted.
Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said in a statement that the filing demonstrates how lawless the Obama administration has become.
"Rather than secure U.S. borders or enforce existing federal immigration laws, the Obama administration continues to afford preference and privileges to people who enter our country illegally and whose presence is unauthorized," Wilder said. "States, not the Obama administration, have the right to determine who is issued a driver's license."
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The Obama administration also chimed in on Tuesday on another Arizona immigration policy by urging a judge to throw out the state's 2005 immigrant smuggling ban. The federal government argues the state smuggling law is trumped by a similar federal law, while Brewer's attorneys contend there is no such conflict with federal law.
Brewer and the Obama administration have clashed over illegal immigration before, most notably in a federal challenge seeking to throw out Arizona's 2010 immigration law, SB1070.
In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law's most contentious section, requiring police to question, while enforcing other laws, the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Other parts, such as a requirement that immigrants carry registration, were struck down.
The state driver's license policy was a reaction to steps the Obama administration took in June 2012 to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation and expand their legal rights. About 580,000 people have been approved to take part in the program, including about 20,000 in Arizona.
Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the program.
Immigrant-rights advocates argued that the state let some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses, but it wouldn't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit.
The state revised the policy last year by saying it would stop issuing driver's licenses to all people who receive deportation deferrals from the federal government, not just young immigrants given protection under Obama's policy. The governor's attorneys argued the revision makes the young immigrants' equal-protection arguments moot.
Brewer's attorneys have contended the decision to deny driver's licenses grew out of liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
Lawyers who sought to overturn the policy said the rule change made it difficult or impossible for such young immigrants to do essential things in their everyday lives, such as going to school, going to the grocery store and finding and holding a job.