State won't accept drivers licenses from other states from new residents as ID.
PHOENIX — John Roberts, a retired postal worker from Topeka, Kan. tried to use his Kansas driver's license to apply for an Arizona driver's license after relocating to Waddell, a community west of Phoenix.
"I was told, 'We don't accept driver's licenses from other states,' " Roberts said. "I said, 'What?' "
Roberts is one of thousands of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants affected by the unforeseen consequences of a 2012 executive order from Gov. Jan Brewer aimed at keeping young undocumented immigrants from getting licenses.
Brewer issued the order in 2012 in response to President Barack Obama's deferred-action program. It allows young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children — those known as "dreamers" — to obtain work permits and remain in the country for up to two years without fear of deportation.
The order has kept thousands of undocumented immigrants who have been granted deferred action from getting driver's licenses, but it also has frustrated U.S. citizens from out of state such as Roberts, who was forced to return the next day with his passport.
Even then, he was delayed further because Motor Vehicle Division employees and a supervisor couldn't decide whether they would accept his passport because it expired 40 years ago.
He said he didn't know what he would do if they didn't accept the expired passport. Finally, they decided the old document was good enough.
"So they took an expired passport, 40 years old, but they wouldn't accept a valid driver's license," Roberts said. "That makes no sense."
Changes after order
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 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 The Arizona Republic obtained 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. New residents had to 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.
Enhanced driver's licenses remain acceptable as primary identification, but only five states issue them: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington, 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.
"This change is necessary because other states plan to issue driver's licenses to individuals who qualify for (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)," Stacey Stanton, director of the state's Motor Vehicle Division, wrote in a Sept.13, 2012, memo to John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Stanton noted that each month, about 12,000 new residents attempt to use out-of-state driver's licenses to get Arizona licenses.
"Obtaining a birth certificate or other primary document may take several weeks or more and this could impact their ability to start a job or acquire housing," Stanton wrote. "Consequently, consideration should be given to allowing a grace period of 14 to 30 days for these situations."
The changes, along with a 30-day grace period, were implemented Sept.19, 2012. However, The Republic could find no evidence that state officials ever publicly announced that out-of-state driver's licenses were no longer acceptable as primary identification as a result of Brewer's executive order.
Tim Tait, a state transportation department spokesman, declined to respond to The Republic's questions.
Andrew Wilder, the governor's spokesman, also did not respond.
The Obama administration announced the deferred-action program on June 15, 2012. It is aimed at undocumented immigrants age 30 and younger who were brought to the U.S. as minors.
Those approved for the program are allowed to remain in the U.S. for two years without the threat of deportation. During that time, they also receive federal work permits called employment authorization documents.
The program went into effect Aug. 15, 2012.
Since then, 18,981 people from Arizona have been approved, according to the most recent statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Documents that the state transportation department released show that when the Obama administration announced the program, state officials believed undocumented immigrants approved for the program likely would be eligible for Arizona driver's licenses.
"If they are indeed issued work visas then they could be eligible for a driver's license or ID card. These ID cards or driver's licenses would only be valid as long as the work visa is valid," Kevin Biesty, state transportation department's assistant director for government relations, wrote in a June 15, 2012, e-mail. "However, this is all speculation ... given the information currently at hand. We need to get more facts and do a thorough review of the details regarding the president's proposal."
David Lugo, another Arizona transportation official, wrote in an Aug. 2 e-mail as the program neared: "I don't see a need to react to the news as these individuals will be issued federal credentials which will meet state law and policy to obtain a DL or ID."
But after Brewer issued her executive order Aug. 15, the same day the president's program went into effect, state transportation officials went into high gear to adopt new regulations to comply with Brewer's order, documents show.
Several advocacy groups then filed a lawsuit, arguing that Brewer's executive order is discriminatory because in the past Arizona allowed people who receive deferred action for other reasons to get driver's licenses. Arizona and Nebraska are the only states that deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who are approved under the president's program.
In response to the lawsuit, the state in September expanded the policy to deny driver's licenses. It now covers all deferred-action recipients, not just those approved in the president's program.
Orion Danjuma, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project in San Francisco, said the state's decision to stop accepting out-of-state driver's licenses as primary identification shows how Brewer's ban also affects U.S. citizens.
"The governor and the Department of Transportation have tied themselves up in knots trying to justify an indefensible policy," Danjuma said. "There are a huge number of barriers that they are setting up not only to (deferred-action) recipients or to other immigrants but also to citizens. I think it is a real question for every Arizonan how many obstacles do you want to tolerate that are between you and receiving a driver's license just so that Brewer can keep waging a war on dreamers."