TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Fewer than half of the young immigrants who became eligible for an Arizona driver's license after a lengthy legal battle have obtained one, according to state data.
The immigrants, often referred to as DREAMers, are part of a federal program that shields them from deportation and gives them a Social Security number and work permit for two years.
President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in 2012 for young people who had been brought to the United States illegally as children. A similar program that would benefit parents of U.S.-citizen children is on hold pending a federal lawsuit.
Young immigrants in Arizona have been able to apply for a driver's license since late December, when U.S. District Judge David Campbell issued a preliminary injunction against an Arizona policy that denied DACA participants driver's licenses. Campbell made the injunction permanent in January, but the state is appealing the ruling.
Nearly 20,000 people in the program are eligible for a license in Arizona, but only about 6,700 of them obtained one between Dec. 30 and March 20, according to figures from the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Dream Act Coalition co-director Erika Andiola, an immigration activist who received her license last month, said a lack of information about who qualifies for a driver's license is partly to blame.
"It was a very confusing time for people because the lawsuit was very confusing. Now it's about awareness," she said.
Andiola said her two-year work permit had lapsed and she had to wait until it was renewed before applying.
"It's actually starting to feel like a relief because I have gotten tickets before, because I had to drive," she said.
Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Harding said seven MVD offices have seen a vast majority of DACA participants, including one in west Phoenix where about half have gotten their licenses.
Former Gov. Jan Brewer waged a legal battle over the program, saying she was concerned about the risk of licenses being used improperly to access public benefits. But the state's legal efforts have been unsuccessful, and on Dec. 22 dozens of immigrants lined up at Motor Vehicle Division offices to get a driver's license.
In states like Colorado and California, all immigrants who lack legal status are now eligible for a license. That has left some MVD offices so busy that officials in Colorado have stopped accepting applications until a backlog is cleared. In California, where officials expected 1.4 million applicants over three years, nearly half a million immigrants who lack legal status have applied for a license since Jan. 2.