Arizona Gov. Defies Obama, Denies Benefits to Undocumented Immigrants

Jan Brewer cited "significant and lasting impacts" on the state budget in denying undocumented immigrants drivers' licenses and other public benefits.

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Ross D. Franklin/AP

Joshua Montano, left, and Francisco Luna protest in front of the Capitol the day after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, in an executive order reaffirming Arizona state law denying young illegal immigrants driver's licenses and other public benefits, Aug. 16, 2012, in Phoenix.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday ordered state agencies to deny driver’s licenses and other taxpayer-funded public benefits to young undocumented immigrants applying for temporary work permits under the new Obama administration policy.

In an executive order, Brewer said President Obama’s deferred action policy does not concede “legal status on illegal immigrants and won’t entitle them to Arizona public benefits.” The order added that an estimated 80,000 deferred action recipients would have “significant and lasting impacts on the Arizona budget, its health care system and additional public benefits that Arizona taxpayers fund.”

Video: Arizona’s ‘Attrition’ Strategy: The Human Cost of Immigration Enforcement

On Wednesday, scores of young undocumented immigrants across country began applying federal work permits under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The executive order will allow immigrants under age 31 who arrived in the United States before age 16 to apply for a two-year work permit. Eligible applicants must have lived in the country for at least five consecutive years and must a clean criminal record. The permits do not provide lawful status, nor do they create a pathway toward citizenship.

But the federal policy change, according to Brewer, could result in “public benefits contrary to the intent of Arizona voters and lawmakers who enacted laws expressly restricting access to taxpayer funded benefits and state identification.” Brewer ordered state agencies to initiate an emergency rulemaking process, if needed, to carry out her order.

Video: Jan Brewer On Immigration

Immigration advocates pounced on Brewer’s order, calling it a shortsighted decision that further blurs immigration policy while denying the economic potential that undocumented immigrants provide. “Deferred action does not grant access to any sort of public benefit,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, tells TIME. “The policy creates a new set of taxpayers for the economy when we sorely need it, but it seems like Governor Brewer wants to keep people who have the potential of starting small businesses in Arizona from doing so.”

Arizona, under Brewer’s leadership, has spearheaded the state-level push to deny benefits to undocumented immigrants. In 2010, the state approved SB 1070, which challenged federal immigration policy by giving local police the power to engage in a range of immigration enforcement actions. The law spurred a flurry of copycat legislation across the country, with five states—Alabama, Utah, Indiana, South Carolina and Georgia—approving similar laws in 2011.

Video: Undocumented Americans: Inside the Immigration Debate

This June, however, the Supreme Court ruled against most of the provisions in the Arizona law. It upheld the “papers please” provision, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop. But an injunction from separate legal case is currently blocking the provision from being enacted.