Immigrants May Be Able to Stay, But Life Won't Get Easier For Them in Arizona


Arizona driver's license
State of Arizona

President Obama may have announced what's essentially a temporary amnesty (yes, it is amnesty, and that's OK) for many illegal immigrants in the United States, but while that will make their lives easier with regard to federal authorities, state officials still have plenty of ways of making people's lives difficult. For one, Governor-Elect Doug Ducey, of Arizona, says "this unilateral executive action without working with Congress is the wrong approach." His comments Governor Jan Brewer's condemnation of "brazen, unilateral action" (both are Republicans). And that's a strong indication that Ducey will continue Brewer's policy of denying illegal immigrants the pieces of state-issued ID that we need to do so any things in the modern security state.

In 2012, Brewer responded to the Obama administration's deferred action plan on immigrants who arrived illegally as children, by issuing an executive order to bar them access to any "taxpayer-funded public benefits and state identification, including a driver's license." The federal government has made clear that public schools are not among the "taxpayer-funded public benefits" that can be put off-limits to immigrants. But given the all-purpose show-your-papers role that driver's licenses and other state ID have taken on, that's hassle enough.

It's also petty.

Nativists often argue that illegal immigrants are a net economic drain on the United States, even though they pay billions in taxes for federal benefits, including Social Security, they don't receive. Illegal immigrants may in fact receive more in state and local benefits than they pay in taxes, according to CBO reckoning. But the biggest cost is education, from which, once again, they can't be excluded. By contrast, driver's licenses and state identification cards are paid for by fees.

The only reason to deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants subject to amnesty is to make their lives more difficult. And life becomes more difficult because it's a growing challenge, especially post-9/11, for anybody to go through life without a piece of plastic issued by the goverment (or at least purporting to be) attesting that they are who they say they are. A 2004 report from the National Law Center on the problems faced by the homeless noted:

Even before the events of September 11, 2001, people needed identification to drive, obtain legal employment, open a bank account, board an airplane, enter certain government buildings, and access many social services. After September 11, 2001, the fear of terrorism has added a new sense of urgency to the government's effort to identify those who operate within its borders.

The end result of such petty bureaucratic end runs is that many immigrants may get a pass from the federal goverment, but state officials can still confine them to a sort of legal purgatory.