By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to allow the state to enforce a policy that denies driver's licenses to recently legalized young immigrants, in a case that affects about 20,000 state residents.
The residents were granted legal status by the federal government under a 2012 program that critics call an amnesty.
A similar program announced by President Barack Obama in November would grant 4.4 million immigrants legal status. Brewer, who is about to leave office, and other Republican governors have said they will contest the program in court.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that there was no legal basis for Arizona's driver's license policy. Earlier this week, the appeals court declined to stay its decision, pending the state's appeal to the Supreme Court.
The appeals court ruling was originally due to go into effect on Dec. 1, according to court documents, but the district court judge overseeing the case has not yet issued an injunction, meaning the state can still withhold licenses.
If the Supreme Court denies Arizona's request, the state will have to let eligible people apply for driver's licenses. The application was directed to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is responsible for emergency applications from western states.
The state policy was aimed at counteracting a federal program launched by Obama in August 2012 called "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," or DACA.
To be eligible for DACA, immigrants must have come to the United States before the age of 16 and be below 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012. Recipients must also be enrolled in school, or have graduated from high school or obtained a high school equivalency diploma, and have no serious criminal offenses on their record.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Richard Chang)