Undocumented family members of military personnel are eligible for driver's licenses.

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PHOENIX -- Arizona will grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants allowed to remain in the country as family members of military personnel, even as it continues to defend a separate decision denying licenses to "dreamers," immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The Arizona Department of Transportation said this week that undocumented spouses, children and parents of military personnel granted "parole in place" under a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy will be eligible for driver's licenses.

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The DHS policy issued in a November memo allows undocumented dependents of military personnel to be "paroled" into the U.S., opening the door for them to apply for a green card without having to first return to their home country and thus avoiding being barred from returning to the U.S. for up to 10 years.

Arizona transportation officials determined this population is different from the young undocumented immigrants approved for federal work permits under President Barack Obama's separate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, said Assistant Communication Director Timothy Tait.

The state is denying licenses to immigrants approved under that program, which targets immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and who have no way to legalize their status.

"Whereas deferred action is the discretionary decision to not enforce federal immigration law with respect to an individual or group, parole is relief afforded pursuant to the (Immigration and Nationality Act)," said Tait. He said the documents issued to paroled immigrants adequately demonstrate authorized presence under federal law, the state requirement to obtain an Arizona license.

Tait said he does not know how many individuals in Arizona will qualify for a license under the provision.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has argued that young undocumented immigrants who receive deferred action through Obama's program are not eligible for driver's licenses, maintaining that only Congress has the authority to grant non-citizens legal presence, which is required under state law to obtain a driver's license or state ID. Brewer supports the Arizona Department of Transportation's decision to grant licenses to immigrants granted parole, spokesman Andrew Wilder said in an email.

But the attorneys challenging the state policy on deferred-action recipients say the two policies are in conflict and bolster their legal challenge of the deferred-action license policy. They plan to make that argument this week to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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The suit filed by the Arizona and national chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center claims Arizona's policy violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by interfering with federal immigration law and violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against certain non-citizens.

In May, federal Judge David Campbell issued a preliminary finding saying he found merit in the argument that Brewer's decision to deny driver's licenses to those benefiting from deferred action violates the Constitution.

The judge noted that Arizona had granted licenses to immigrants who received work permits through other forms of deferred action before Obama began the program for young immigrants last year. However, he refused to suspend the policy. The immigrant-rights groups are seeking an injunction from the appeals court.

"I'm sure this is Brewer and (Arizona Department of Transportation's) way of trying to appear compassionate and supporting the military and military families and all that," said Kelly Flood, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. "But their reasoning doesn't make any real legal sense to us."

Contributing: Daniel González, The Arizona Republic

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