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Jan Brewer leads 'constitutional throwdown' against DREAM Act-lite

Jan Brewer, Arizona governor, is again taking on the White House, saying young illegal immigrants covered under a new Obama plan can't get state benefits. It could lead to legal wranglings.

By Staff writer / August 16, 2012

Student protesters walk towards the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix after Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order on Wednesday ordering state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young illegal immigrants who obtain work authorizations under a new Obama administration policy.

Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic/AP

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Continuing a longstanding feud with the federal government, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday ordered state agencies to withhold driver’s licenses and other state benefits from young illegal immigrants applying for the Obama administration’s new deportation deferrals. The decision marks a new chapter in the "constitutional throwdown" between the White House and states vowing to “get tough” on illegal immigration.

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President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which took effect Wednesday, allows as many as 2 million illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children and meet several other criteria to apply for a two-year deportation deferral. The directive also makes them eligible for work permits and college tuition help.

But Governor Brewer’s executive order – which could affect 80,000 people in Arizona – points to challenges ahead.

It amplifies lingering questions about the kind of protection illegal immigrants will get as they apply for the new benefit, and whether coming forward could backfire if Mr. Obama loses his reelection campaign in November. Moreover, it suggests that conservatives are intent on pushing back as hard as they can against a program Brewer has defined as an illegal backdoor “amnesty.”

Brewer’s revolt centers around her attempt to defy a basic federal law, the Real ID Act, in which Congress listed “deferred action” recipients as being eligible to receive driver’s licenses. Real ID was passed in 2005 to improve license security after 9/11, but 20 states, including Arizona, continue to fight the law, saying it doesn’t give enough leeway to states. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who will ultimately oversee DACA, fought for the repeal of Real ID in 2009, saying it had proved unworkable and unpopular.

The order “is an act of defiance and a constitutional throwdown,” says Michael Olivas, an immigration-law expert at the University of Houston. “The fact is, there is no gray area as to deferred action. Once someone is given that, they have to be given a driver’s license.”

Brewer, who in January raised her finger to the president’s face during a tense encounter on an Arizona airport runway, disagrees.

Undocumented immigrants "are here illegally and unlawfully in the state of Arizona, and it's already been determined that you're not allowed to have a driver's license if you are here illegally," the governor said in a press conference. "The Obama amnesty plan doesn't make them legally here." 

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