At first blush, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seemed to be defying the federal government once again on Wednesday night.
The Republican governor signed an executive order saying Arizona had no plans to give government benefits, including drivers licenses, to the tens of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants in that state who would be getting work permits and immunity from deportation under President Obama’s new immigration policy.
But while the order sounded harsh, at least one high-ranking Democrat in Arizona quickly threw cold water on it, saying Brewer’s declaration appears to be little more than hot air.
“It doesn’t seem to really do anything,” state Senate Democratic Leader David Schapira told TPM. “I see it as her once again trying to grandstand on the issue of immigration.”
The order came the same week that the Obama administration began rolling out a program to bring undocumented young people out of the shadows and give them the ability to work and do things like pay taxes. Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program had youths lining up throughout the nation to find out how to apply for it.
Brewer, who signed Arizona’s harsh immigration law known as SB 1070 and who has butted heads with Obama on immigration multiple times, said her executive order was a direct response to the president’s program. But whether that response actually changes the way Arizona will deal with the program is another matter.
Schapira pointed out that Arizona already had a number of strict immigration laws in place, including one that barred illegal immigrants from getting drivers licenses or state issued identification cards. The law may have already been interpreted to bar any newly immune immigrants from getting those state IDs, Schapira said. That means Brewer’s order effectively carried no weight at all.
Even the governor admitted at a news conference late in the day that nothing really changed because of her order. “It actually is no different than what was already in place,” Brewer said.
She also struggled to describe her action on a conservative talk radio show in Phoenix, saying it was only meant to guide state workers on how to handle the situation.
“It was an order to clarify where Arizona stands on this position so there would be no confusion for the directors of my agencies,” the governor said in the phone interview with KFYI’s Mike Broomhead.
Later in the same conversation, she stumbled when describing what role the state would play under the president’s new program. “We will issue an employment authorization card to these people,” Brewer said, then paused as if listening to somebody in the background. “The feds will, yeah, the feds will.”
After the order was issued, Alessandra Soler, the Arizona director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the whole thing made it look as if Brewer didn’t really understand the law in the first place.
“This is yet another reason why Arizona has no business trying to regulate immigration matters,” Soler said in a written statement.
Yet she also added that the ACLU believes neither Brewer’s order nor the current Arizona laws will bar the newly documented young immigrants from getting state issued IDs. “This order conflicts with state and federal law because people who are granted deferred action will, in fact, have authorized presence in the United States and under Arizona law people who have authorized presence are eligible to apply for Arizona state identification,” Soler said.
Regardless, other immigration activists and people involved in politics told TPM it was too soon to know for sure whether Brewer’s order would change anything. They said immigration attorneys would be looking at the language in the coming days to figure out what, if anything, comes next.
Listen to Brewer’s appearance on KFYI in Phoenix.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com