PHOENIX (AP) — Young immigrants protected from deportation under an Obama administration policy began applying Monday for Arizona driver's licenses after a judge barred the state from denying the privilege.
People lined up early at a Motor Vehicle Division office in Phoenix and cheered when the doors opened.
They said they were excited about getting a chance to drive legally. Some said they had been driving to their jobs without licenses and feared being pulled over.
Jose Cazares, 21, said it will be a relief to get a license.
"It's going to be . peace of mind knowing that I'm legally allowed to drive now, not having to watch over my back and think of, 'Oh am I going to get pulled over and get a ticket, get my car towed, and how am I going to get to work the next day,'" Cazares said.
Ramon Maldonado, 19, agreed.
"It feels pretty nice knowing that I finally have the piece of paper that I have been waiting for for over two years," Maldonado said as he emerged from a Motor Vehicle Division office with a driver's license.
Jose Alberto Aguilar, a Mexico City native who was brought to the U.S. by his parents as a child, waited at a Motor Vehicle Division office in Tucson. The 23-year-old civil engineer rides the bus to work each day.
"It's great because it allows me to get a car and be safer too," he said.
Aguilar says he was hired as a civil engineer after an internship made possible when he acquired a Social Security number through the 2012 Obama administration program that he said "really opened a lot of doors for me."
State officials expect the rush of applicants to continue in the weeks ahead since about 20,000 immigrants could be eligible for licenses.
The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell bars the state from enforcing the driver's license policy of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
Young immigrants have said the policy made it difficult or impossible for them to get essential things done in their everyday lives, such as going to school, work or the store.
Brewer moved to deny the driver's licenses after the Obama administration took steps to shield thousands of immigrants from deportation.
The president's policy applied to people younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before turning 16; have been in the country for at least five continuous years; are enrolled in or have graduated from a high school or equivalent program; or have served in the military.
In the nation's most visible challenge to Obama's deferred-action program, Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to immigrants who get work authorization under the Obama policy.
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.
Despite her belief that issuing licenses is a state matter, Brewer's office confirmed she would comply with the latest development. However, she is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her appeal.
Nebraska is the only other state to have made similar denials, and a federal judge this year dismissed a lawsuit contesting that state's policy.