By Matthew Longdon
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX – After being approved recently for the Obama administration’s deferred action program for young illegal immigrants, Elisa Vega said she tried to get an Arizona driver’s license only to find out she couldn’t.
“The guy said, ‘Don’t you read the news? You can’t get your license. You’re not lawfully here’” she said.
In August, Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order denying driver’s licenses to deferred action participants, saying that being in the program doesn’t constitute the proof Arizona requires of legal status.
Vega, 21, joined other members of Promise Arizona, an immigrant rights group, and Democratic lawmakers Tuesday at a news conference urging Brewer to rescind that order.
“They are our kids. They grew up in Arizona,” said Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma. “They need to be able to drive to school and work.”
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said it’s time to “open the doors to these young applicants.”
“These folks just want to understand the rules of the road,” he said.
Obama’s deferred action plan, announced in June, would allow some illegal immigrants to obtain renewable work visas. The plan requires applicants to be under 31 as of June 15, 2012, and they had to be younger than 16 when they entered the country. Applicants must also have a high school diploma or GED or have been honorably discharged from the military.
Those at the news conference pointed to a new reference on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website saying that a deferred action participant “is not considered to be unlawfully present during the period in which deferred action is in effect.”
A spokesman for Brewer didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the news conference and the Homeland Security statement. However, the spokesman, Matt Benson, told The Arizona Republic last week that the administration was reviewing the Homeland Security statement.
Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, said she planned to introduce a bill that would allow those approved for deferred action to receive driver’s licenses, which she said her constituents had been asking for.
Reps. Catherine H. Miranda, D-Phoenix, and Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, also have introduced bills that would require the Arizona Department of Transportation to accept federal work permits as proof of lawful presence.
Vega, who entered the country with her family from Mexico when she was 4, started the deferred action process in October and received her Social Security number two weeks ago only to have her license application denied.
“It would be a weight off my shoulders,” Vega said. “I could get a car, get a job and go to school.”
She said she will attend Phoenix College and wants to study anything related to medicine. She spent a year at the college before moving to Utah with her family after SB 1070 passed in 2010 and moved back to Arizona recently after getting married.
Unless she can get her license, she said she would take the bus to school as she does to get elsewhere.
“I literally spend all day on the bus,” Vega said.
Will allow licenses:
• New Mexico
Won’t allow licenses: