Court says Arizona cannot deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked on Monday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy of denying driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who’ve gotten…
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Court says Arizona cannot deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients

Alan Salinas (left) and Jhannyn Rivera (right) stand in front of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix on March 23, 2013, after a judge heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy denying driver’s licenses to undocumented youth benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (VOXXI/Griselda Nevarez)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked on Monday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy of denying driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who’ve gotten work permits and deportation reprieve under an Obama administration federal program.

The ruling announced on Monday marks a victory for immigrant rights advocates who say that Brewer’s policy treats recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program differently from other immigrants benefiting from similar deferred action policies.

SEE ALSO: DACA recipients challenge Arizona driver’s license ban in court

The plaintiffs — five DACA recipients and the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition — also argued that Brewer’s policy barring DACA recipients from getting driver’s licenses violates the Equal Protection Clause and is preempted by federal immigration law.

In its unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs on both issues. It concluded that the “plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their equal protection claim, that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm unless Defendants’ policy is enjoined, and that both the balance of the equities and the public interest favor an injunction.”

In addition, the appeals court also reversed a decision issued May 2013 by a district court that denied a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs.

“We remand for entry of a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendants from enforcing its policy by which the Arizona Department of Transportation refuses to accept Plaintiffs’ Employment Authorization Documents, issued to Plaintiffs under DACA, for purposes of obtaining an Arizona driver’s license,” the appeals court stated in its decision.

In a statement, Brewer said Arizona is only reinforcing existing state law by denying driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. She cited a state law that mandates the Arizona Department of Transportation to not issue or renew a driver’s license to a person who is not authorized by the federal government to be in the country.

“I am analyzing options for appealing the misguided court decision,” the Republican governor stated. “The American people are tired and disgusted by what is happening through our federal government today, but they can be assured Arizona will continue to fight for the rule of law.”

SEE ALSO: Deferred action rekindles debate over who should get driver’s licenses

The Arizona DREAM Act Coalition applauded the court’s ruling in a statement: “Today’s ruling rightly recognizes that our plaintiffs, along with tens of thousands of immigrant youth in Arizona, are being irreparably harmed by Governor Brewer’s discriminatory policy. We hope the state will take this ruling as an opportunity to abandon its quixotic anti-immigrant quest and begin issuing licenses to all those authorized to live and work in Arizona.”

Brewer issued an executive order in August 2012 directing state agencies to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. She argued that because the DACA program didn’t grant undocumented youth a lawful status, the state wasn’t required to give them any public benefits, including driver’s licenses. However, the state still gave driver’s licenses to other immigrants benefiting from other forms of deferred action.

A year after the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit challenging Brewer’s order, the state expanded the driver’s license ban to include all people who receive deferred action from deportation, not just undocumented youth benefiting from the DACA program. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the revision was clearly an attempt by the state to undermine the plaintiffs’ equal-protection claim.

Dulce Matuz, head of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said Brewer’s policy has prohibited some DACA recipients from getting certain jobs that require them to have a driver’s license. And some employers, she said, have denied job opportunities to DACA recipients because they were seen as “unreliable” due to their inability to drive.

“For me, it feels very good to be on the right side of the issue and on the right side of history,” Matuz told VOXXI, reacting to the appeals court ruling. “We knew that the order was discriminatory and it was putting individuals with work permits and social security numbers in a tough position.”

A total of 22,756 undocumented young immigrants in Arizona have been approved for the DACA program as of March, according to data by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The federal program benefits undocumented youth who are under the age of 31 and who were brought to the U.S. before turning 16.

Arizona and Nebraska are the only two states that deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients.

SEE ALSO: Judge tosses lawsuit over driver’s licenses for Dreamers in Nebraska