Federal Court Says Arizona Violates Constitution by Denying Drivers Licenses to DREAMers

Decision Declares Arizona Has No Rational Basis for Policy Which Violates Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection Under Federal Law

May 16, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

PHOENIX – A federal district court today said that the state of Arizona has no rational basis under the law to deny drivers’ licenses to young immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States under the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but it stopped short of granting a preliminary injunction against the policy, issued last year in an executive order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.  These young immigrants, who arrived in the U.S. before aged 16 are known as DREAMers. The order was challenged by a coalition of civil rights groups on behalf of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an immigrant youth-led organization, and five individual immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

“This is an important ruling for Arizona’s DREAMers, and everyone who seeks justice, but we respectfully disagree with the court’s decision not to immediately block this harmful policy," said Jenny Chang Newell with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. “It keeps young immigrants from contributing to their communities, to the state and to the nation. We intend to vigorously pursue justice for our plaintiffs so that this policy is blocked as soon as possible."

“Every day of our lives, we’re helping our families, the businesses in our communities, and working to take our place as teachers, scientists, and professionals in Arizona,” said Dulce Matuz, Director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “To be successful, we need drivers’ licenses. They have become a necessity in life.”

The civil rights coalition argued that Arizona’s driver’s license policy is unconstitutional because it unfairly singles out young immigrants granted deferred action under DACA, when Arizona’s policy allows all other immigrants granted deferred action and a work permit to apply for licenses. DREAMers are young immigrants who came here before they were sixteen years of age and graduated from a U.S. high school.

“Although we’re disappointed by the court’s refusal to immediately block this discriminatory order, we will continue to pursue this important fight until all DREAMers are treated with dignity and respect,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.  “At a time when the majority of Americans support fair and inclusive immigration policies, Arizona continues to stand out as an outlier by treating these young, hard-working immigrants differently because of who they are. We are confident that in the end the courts will side with DREAMers and uphold equality.”

An estimated 80,000 youth in Arizona, and 1.76 million nationwide, are eligible for the DACA program.

"This decision not to block the policy hurts not just Arizona's DREAMers, but Arizona's communities and economy as well. We will not give up the fight against Arizona's discriminatory policy against its own youth,” said Karen Tumlin, Managing Attorney for the National Immigration Law Center.

While the DACA program helps provide a lifeline for many immigrant youth who have been living in the United States in fear because of their immigration status, it does not negate the need for Congress to enact federal legislation that provides a roadmap to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people, including young people who came here as children commonly known as DREAMers, who are seeking to integrate fully in to American life.

In addition to the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, the National Immigration Law Center, and MALDEF, the legal team includes the Phoenix office of Polsinelli Shughart, P.C.

Statistics image