(Adds comment from Governor Brewer, details, background)
PHOENIX May 16 A U.S. federal judge refused on
Thursday to block Arizona's Republican governor, who has long
clashed with Washington over immigration reform, from denying
driver's licenses to young immigrants granted temporary legal
status by the federal government.
Civil rights groups had filed a lawsuit in U.S. District
Court in Phoenix in November against Governor Jan Brewer and two
state transportation department officials on behalf of five
Mexican immigrants who qualify for deferred deportation status
under a program pushed by President Barack Obama.
The suit challenged the legality of an order issued by
Brewer in August that denied the young migrants licenses,
arguing that the federal deferred action program did not give
them lawful status or entitle them to public benefits.
Judge David Campbell ruled that while the young immigrants
appeared likely to prevail in their argument on constitutional
equal-protection grounds, they had not proved they would suffer
irreparable injury as the case proceeds.
"The court concludes that plaintiffs have not shown a
likelihood of success on the merits of their Supremacy Clause
claim," Campbell noted in a written ruling denying the motion
for a preliminary injunction.
"Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the
merits of their equal-protection claim, but the Court finds that
they have not shown a likelihood of irreparable injury and have
not otherwise met the high burden for a mandatory injunction,"
The ruling came as a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the
U.S. House of Representatives declared on Thursday they had
reached a tentative deal for passage of a major bill to revamp
the nation's immigration policy.
The final sticking point in Washington, according to
congressional sources, was over whether illegal immigrants now
in the United States who gain legal status under the bill could
participate in the new healthcare law known as "Obamacare,"
which Republicans want to repeal.
While the judge in the Arizona driver's license case said
the immigrants' equal-protection claim was likely to succeed, he
also tossed a separate argument that the Arizona policy was
pre-empted by federal law in a move Brewer described as a
"This portion of the ruling is not only a victory for the
State of Arizona, it is a victory for states' rights, the rule
of law and the bedrock principles that guide our nation's
legislative process and the division of power between the
federal government and states," Brewer said in a statement.
An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union had
argued for the plaintiffs at a hearing before Campbell in March.
A call to the ACLU seeking comment was not immediately returned
Under Obama's program, immigrants who came to the United
States as children and meet certain other criteria can apply for
a work permit for a renewable period of two years. They also can
obtain Social Security numbers.
An estimated 1.7 million youths are potentially eligible for
the program, of whom about 80,000 live in Arizona. As of
mid-February, about 200,000 applicants nationwide had been
granted deferred action, according to the U.S. Citizenship and
Those immigrants are considered to be lawfully present in
the United States during that period.
About 40 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have
confirmed they were granting driver's licenses - or planned to
do so - for youths who received a short-term deportation
reprieve under the program in June.
While Republicans in some states have opposed drivers
licenses for illegal immigrants, only Arizona and Nebraska said
outright that young immigrants were not eligible.
Brewer maintains that the policy did not "confer upon them
any lawful or authorized status and does not entitle them to any
additional public benefits."
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and