Driving is a huge part of everyday American life, especially in the west where cities are more modern and spaced out.
Typical East Coast cities (think New York and Boston) have had public transportation systems like subways in place since before cars were readily used. In contrast, western cities were built out, not up. In other words, vehicles are essential to living in Phoenix. Even for the group of illegal immigrants known as Dreamers.
Dreamers has become the nickname for children who were brought here to the United States. For many of them, this is the only home they’ve ever known, so many have stayed here as they hope to gain some type of legal status.
In 2012, after Congress failed to pass any type of immigration reform, President Barack Obama unveiled a Deferred Action Program that would allow some Dreamers to stay and work in the United States. The move was a move around Congress, but it did grant temporary legal status to thousands by saying the administration isn’t going to deport them all.
In Arizona, after the Deferred Action Program was announced, Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order banning Dreamers from getting driver’s licenses in the state despite their legal status and despite the fact that driving is the only feasible way to get around Phoenix (ironic given that Brewer was suspected of a DUI in 1988 back when she was a state senator, but conveniently the case was never pursued).
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found there was no legitimate state interest in treating young immigrants granted deferred action on deportation differently from other noncitizens who could apply for driver’s licenses. Instead, the panel suggested the policy was intended to express hostility toward the young immigrants, in part because of the federal government’s policy toward them.
The court made the right decision. The decision (pending appeal) creates order out of a messy situation. Again, these Dreamers have legal status. They are allowed to work here. There’s no compelling reason the state could give to deny them licenses.
Hopefully, this decision keeps everything above board. Cars will be registered, insurance will be purchased and Dreamers names will now be on record in state police systems. Really, it’s common sense.
The move to deny the licenses was political, designed to send a message to Washington and to score points with voters.
Others have argued that obtaining a driver’s license is a privilege for Americans to earn, not a right to be given to everyone.
Driving is as American as apple pie. And let’s be honest, getting a driver’s license is easy. It’s earned by passing both an easy written and an easy driving test. Once it’s complete, usually as a teenager, it’s treated like a lifetime achievement award. The “privilege” is hardly ever taken away (unless someone is a horrible driver). Most will never have to re-learn the laws of the road or take another test to prove they are capable of handling a vehicle.
Dreamers will still have to earn their licenses the same way Americans do. They’ll have to pass those tests too. Once they do, the roads will be that much safer and they too can take part in this American rite of passage.