Arizona Ordered to Lift Immigrant Driver Limits

Arizona may not enforce a state law denying a driver’s license to people who arrived in the U.S. as children illegally but are allowed to stay under a federal law.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Arizona law be issued and to allow the plaintiffs to apply for driver’s licenses.

Arizona is one of just two states that has refused to issue licenses to immigrants.

The lawsuit filed by a group of five young people living in Arizona, who are allowed to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law, challenged the policy as an equal protection violation and argued it is preempted by federal law.  Joining them in the lawsuit is, Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an organization that promotes the interests of young immigrants.

The three-judge panel, from the liberal wing of the court, said the plaintiffs had demonstrated they are likely to succeed with their equal protection claim and ehnjoined the policy.

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security determined that immigration law was not designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived and do not speak the language.

Under DACA the Obama Administration would exercise its prosecutorial discretion to allow certain young people brought to the country as children to remain under DACA.

They would have to have arrived before they were 16 years old and be under 31 years as of 2012.  They also had to have a high school diploma or served honorably in the uU.S. Armed Forces and not pose a threat to public safety.

Arizona responded with a law that prohibits the issue of driver’s licenses to applicants who are in the U.S. illegally.

The ruling does not decide the ultimate outcome of the case but bans implementation of the law temporarily to provide time for a trial on the issue.

Judge Harry Pregerson, writing for the panel, said that in Arizona the “ability to drive may be a virtual necessity for people who want to work.”  Records show 87 percent of Arizona’s workforce commutes to work by car, he said.  For some of the plaintiffs a driver’s license is part of a job requirement.

It doesn’t matter that Arizona does not formally bar DACA recipients from working.  “If the practical result of the application of defendants’ policy is that DACA recipients in Arizona are generally obstructed from working… defendants’ policy is preempted,” he said.

In addition, he said the state has shown no rational relation between its driver’s license ban and a danger to issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.  The policy is likely to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, Pregerson said.  He was joined by Judge Marsha Berzon.

Judge Morgan Christen joined Pregerson in a separate concurring opinion stating she would go farther.  She found that the plaintiffs have also show a likelihood of injury based the law’s regulation of immigration, which a purely federal job.

Case: Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, No. 13-16248


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