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PHOENIX (AP) — Thousands of young immigrants moved a step closer to getting driver's licenses in Arizona when the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rebuffed the governor's latest attempt to deny them the privilege.
The high court denied a request by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to put a previous decision by a lower court on hold. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ordered the case's judge to bar enforcement of Brewer's policy of denying licenses to about 20,000 young immigrants protected from deportation by an Obama administration policy enacted in 2012.
It's not known when U.S. District Judge David Campbell will issue an order that will make immigrants eligible to get licenses once it's signed.
Karen Tumlin, an attorney for the immigrants, said Campbell could act quickly or order a briefing from attorneys. "I think things will be moving very quickly," she said.
Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said the state will continue to pursue an appeal of the 9th Circuit's ruling. The Supreme Court is expected to decide sometime next year whether it will hear Brewer's appeal, but it declined to put the lower court's decision on hold in the meantime.
The governor's refusal to grant the licenses marked the nation's most visible challenge to steps the Obama administration took to shield thousands of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.
That federal policy assists immigrants younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before turning 16 and have been in the country for at least five continuous years. They also must be enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or GED program, or have served in the military.
Along with driver's licenses, the policy allowed applicants to pursue a two-year, renewable work permit.
Brewer directed state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to young immigrants who get work authorization under the deferred-action program. Her attorneys have argued that the decision grew out of liability concerns and the desire to reduce the risk of the licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.
Immigrant rights advocates said the change made it difficult or impossible for young immigrants to get essential things done in their everyday lives, such as going to school, work or the store.
In July, the 9th Circuit concluded that there was no legitimate state interest in treating young immigrants granted deferred action differently from other noncitizens who could apply for driver's licenses.
Instead, the court suggested Brewer's order was intended to express hostility toward the immigrants, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them. It ordered Campbell to bar enforcement of the state policy.
Nebraska is the only other state to have made similar denials of driver's licenses, and a federal judge this year dismissed a lawsuit contesting that state's policy.
Last month, President Barack Obama issued a broader executive order on immigration that lifts the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
A group of 24 states, including Arizona, joined in a federal lawsuit alleging Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.
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