News24

Arizona limits immigrant benefits

2012-08-17 11:09

Los Angeles - On the day undocumented migrants lined up across the United States to apply for deportation deferrals, Arizona's governor ordered state agencies to deny them driver's licenses and other benefits.

Governor Janet Brewer issued the order on Wednesday as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services began receiving applications for the new federal programme.

Supporters say the federal initiative could benefit up to 1.7 million people - including about 800 000 in Arizona.

To be eligible, applicants must have been 16 years old or younger when they arrived in the United States, must currently be younger than 31 years old, have no criminal record and be in school or have served in the US military.

The young people who qualify for the federal programme can obtain work permits but will not be able to obtain a driver's license or any state benefit in Arizona.

Allowing the 80 000 Deferred Action recipients access to state or local benefits would have "significant and lasting impacts on the Arizona budget," Brewer's order said.

460 000 illegal immigrants

The Republican governor's move defies federal law, as those approved for deportation deferral should be able to obtain a state driver's license. Brewer and other conservative governors disagree, and seek to repeal that ruling.

"Brewer is distorting federal law and inaccurately interpreting state law," said Alessandra Soler of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union rights group.

Soler charged that Brewer "is perpetuating the myth that deferred action applicants are somehow submitting fraudulent documents".

Arizona, on the US border with Mexico, approved tough measures in 2010 that criminalised illegal immigration.

The US Supreme Court in June declared most of that law unconstitutional, but allowed state police officers to ask people suspected of being illegal immigrants to show identification papers.

About a third of Arizona's 6.6 million residents were not born in the United States, and there are an estimated 460 000 illegal immigrants in the state.