On August 15 the Department of Homeland Security started accepting requests for deferred action from DREAM Act-eligible youth, or DREAMers—undocumented students who were brought to this country at a young age, have been living here for more than five years, and meet certain other requirements. Those students who receive deferred action will be permitted to live and work in the country lawfully for a two-year period.
But on the very same day that a new world of opportunity opened up for these kids, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer tried to steal the spotlight by issuing an executive order denying state benefits to the approximately 53,000 potential beneficiaries residing in the state.
While a close reading of Gov. Brewer’s order reveals that much of it is redundant to current law, it’s important to note that this mean-spirited initiative from America’s most famously anti-immigrant governor will likely further tarnish the image of the Canyon State as an unwelcoming hotbed of intolerance while harming its economy. Despite the governor’s claims, many Arizonans support DREAMers.
Let’s review the three ways in which Gov. Brewer’s political posturing will hurt Arizona.
1. Gov. Brewer’s executive order is on shaky legal ground
Gov. Brewer’s office attempted to quash the enthusiasm of Arizona DREAMers with the restrictionist executive order just as youth had taken to the streets in celebration of their hard-won victory on deferred action. But it’s likely that the new restrictions enumerated in the order will only last as long as it takes advocates to bring the governor to court.
Some aspects of Gov. Brewer’s executive order are redundant to current state and federal law, while others run directly counter to it. Even undocumented immigrants who gain legal presence under the deferred action program are ineligible to receive social welfare benefits. A 2006 state law banning undocumented immigrants from being eligible to pay in-state tuition may also prevent those in the state who are granted deferred action from receiving tuition waivers. In that regard, the governor’s call to cut deferred action recipients off from public benefits is simply empty rhetoric.
Both Arizona and federal law currently allow those with authorized presence in the United States to be eligible for driver’s licenses and IDs. Eligible youth receiving deferred action will be granted authorized presence along with work permits. The Arizona Department of Transportation currently lists work permits as eligible primary documents to prove your identity when applying for a license.
If these significant legal questions are brought to court, Arizona taxpayers will be burdened with additional legal costs in a case the governor is likely to ultimately lose.
While grandstanding about her role in preserving the rule of law, Gov. Brewer apparently can’t be bothered by the law that already exists—and the limits it places on her power.
Gov. Brewer’s previous misguided foray into immigration policy, with the “papers please” S.B. 1070 law, cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost tourism business in pursuit of a law that even today’s conservative Supreme Court largely struck down as blatantly unconstitutional. Yet here she goes again, bucking the law in service of her political agenda and to the detriment of Arizona’s image and future.
2. Gov. Brewer wants to keep people from getting to work and thereby limit economic growth
In a state not known for compact metropolitan areas, Gov. Brewer’s order to disqualify those DREAMers who receive deferred action from getting driver’s licenses is a grave economic misstep.
Similar to so many cities in the American Sunbelt, the city of Phoenix, whose population grew an astounding 29 percent in the past decade, has seen significant outward expansion in recent years. Jobs are increasingly found far away from the urban core, the place that minorities—and therefore most beneficiaries of deferred action—disproportionately call home. A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that only 23.5 percent of Phoenix’s labor force could get home from work in less than 90 minutes via public transit. Without being able to drive, those who obtain work permits will be limited in pursuing a wide range of employment options.
Gov. Brewer’s basic response is, “That’s the whole point—I’m protecting the native-born (white) Americans from having to compete for those jobs.”
Of course, this claim only holds true if one accepts the widely discredited zero-sum economic theories peddled by immigration restrictionists. The truth is that by closing off equal access to job opportunities for perfectly able workers, Gov. Brewer is curtailing their earning potential and hence limiting the total growth in gross state product that could result from their entry into the labor force.
If Gov. Brewer’s executive order stands, immigrant youth will not be purchasing cars, paying for gas (and a $.18 per gallon state tax) to get to work, using their wages to buy groceries, renting apartments, putting down payment on homes, or investing in their education. The state of Arizona will also be missing out on millions of dollars in additional tax revenue collected from these workers’ increased income and consumption.
3. Gov. Brewer is not representing the people of Arizona
While some of Gov. Brewer’s staunch supporters may be in favor of her radical order, most Arizonans are reasonable and have proven time and again that they are in support of making the lives of these young people easier, not harder.
The governor’s office has gone out of its way to advertise the number of calls and emails it has received in support of the executive order, but public opinion polls show that the governor’s office is acting counter to what the residents of Arizona want. Nearly three-quarters of Arizonans support the DREAM Act, the federal legislation that would provide undocumented youth with an opportunity to earn citizenship, according to an April 2012 survey. Broken down by party affiliation, a 2011 poll shows that 69 percent of Republican Arizonans are in support of the DREAM Act.
In the days since Gov. Brewer issued her executive order, analogies have been drawn between the Arizona governor and the “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” governor of Alabama, George Wallace. If we leave it up to her, chances are that Gov. Brewer’s extreme dogma won’t end at the door of the Arizona Department of Transportation, where she currently stands, trying to stop deserving students from getting their ticket to economic security. Gov. Brewer will keep Arizona from moving forward.
For the sake of Arizona’s reputation and its economic future, Gov. Brewer’s injudicious incursions into immigration policymaking must come to an end, just as Gov. Wallace’s once did.
Ann Garcia is a Research and Policy Associate with the Immigration Team at the Center for American Progress.