By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday required Arizona to continue to provide driver's licenses to the so-called Dreamers immigrants and refused to hear the state's challenge to an Obama-era program that protects hundreds of thousands of young adults brought into the country illegally as children.
The case centered on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created in 2012 under Democratic former President Barack Obama that Republican President Donald Trump already has sought to rescind. Those who signed up for the program are shielded from deportation and given work permits.
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The high court refused to hear Republican-governed Arizona's appeal of a lower court ruling that barred the state from denying driver's licenses to people protected under DACA.
The justices on Feb. 26 required the Trump administration to keep DACA in place at least for now, turning away its appeal of a judge's nationwide injunction that halted the president's September order to begin winding down the program in March.
San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge William Alsup on Jan. 9 ruled that the administration must continue to process renewals of existing DACA applications while litigation over the legality of the Republican president's bid to end the program is resolved. A second federal judge has since issued a similar injunction.
After the DACA program was put in place under Obama, Arizona's governor at the time, Republican Jan Brewer, directed state officials to prevent the program's recipients from obtaining a driver's license in the state.
Non-citizens must prove they are authorized to be in the United States to obtain an Arizona driver's license, such as with a valid federal work permit. But the state decided not to accept permits obtained by DACA recipients.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of a group of DACA recipients who were denied driver's licenses. Arizona was the only state to deny licenses to DACA recipients, according to court papers.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year struck down the Arizona policy, ruling that the state cannot develop its own definition of immigrants who are authorized to be in the United States and that only the federal government had the power to do that.
Arizona appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the 9th Circuit's decision ran roughshod over state sovereignty. Arizona said DACA was enacted through a Department of Homeland Security memo, rather than legislation in the U.S. Congress or a formal agency rule-making process, and could not supersede state law regulating driver's licenses.
The Trump administration urged the justices not to take the case, saying that the president's rescind the policy means the state's concerns have already been addressed.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)