Federal Appeals Court Rules Arizona Must End Ban on Drivers’ Licenses for DREAMers

July 7, 2014 5:40 pm

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Panel Determines That Young Immigrants Are Being Harmed by Gov. Brewer’s License Ban



ACLU National, 212-519-7835, media@aclu.org

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was wrong to bar some young immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses, a panel of federal judges ruled today. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division to end its policy of denying licenses to young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. This group of young people—who have permission from the federal government to live and work in the U.S.—are seriously harmed by their inability to get drivers’ licenses, the court said.

The court ruled that Arizona’s license denial policy is likely to be held unconstitutional because it improperly discriminates against some young immigrants. This is the latest legal step in a civil rights coalition’s lawsuit against the discriminatory policy, which prevented Arizona youth granted work authorization through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from applying for state-issued identification.

The news was welcomed by plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Carla Chavarria, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, who said, “Today’s decision will remove a tremendous burden that I—along with thousands of other Arizonans—face on a daily basis. By allowing us to apply for the licenses we need to drive to school and work, we’ll finally be able to contribute more fully to the communities we love.”

“The court’s ruling confirms that Arizona’s discrimination against these young immigrants violates our Constitution,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Governor Brewer just got a wake-up call: it’s time for Arizona to stop standing in the way of these hardworking young adults, who are just trying to achieve the American dream.”

Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, said, “Today’s decision finally recognizes that Arizona’s immigrant youth are no different from anyone else authorized to live and work in the country, and to treat them differently is simply wrong. Our plaintiffs have fought long and hard to be recognized by the state they love, and we are thrilled to see that the courts have ordered the removal of one major barrier from allowing these young people to more fully contribute to their families, community, and economy.”

“This is a huge victory for the young immigrants who want nothing more than to make meaningful contributions to communities in their home state of Arizona,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Gov. Brewer chose to play politics with the hopes and dreams of these young people by denying them licenses and we’re extremely happy the court saw through this and found there was no rational reason to single them out.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Arizona challenged Gov. Brewer’s executive order and related policies in court, alleging the ban violates DREAMers’ constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.

Today, in granting a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit agreed that DREAMers suffered “irreparable harm” because of Gov. Brewer’s policy, particularly because the denial of a driver’s license limits employment opportunities. The court also found that plaintiffs may be successful in establishing that Gov. Brewer’s arbitrary ban improperly infringes on the federal government’s exclusive immigration authority by inhibiting plaintiffs’ ability to work as authorized.

In September 2013, in an effort to get out from under the lawsuit, Gov. Brewer expanded the drivers’ license ban to other groups of immigrants—including crime victims, domestic violence survivors and their children. Brewer’s administration apparently hoped that expanding the ban to other “deferred action” categories of immigrants would make the ban on DREAMers constitutional by imposing the state’s discriminatory policy on other, similar groups of non-citizens. However, as the Plaintiffs have argued in court, targeting additional groups of immigrants in order to continue the state’s discrimination against DREAMers is equally unconstitutional.

“Today, the federal courts had to step in to prevent Arizona from discriminating against the DACA recipients that it should be embracing,” said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel, who argued the case in the Ninth Circuit. “After yet another loss in court, Arizona should stop its senseless battle against immigrants.”

For a copy of the order, click here.

For more information about the lawsuit challenging the policy in Arizona denying driver’s licenses to DREAMers, visit: www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/arizona-dream-act-coalition-et-al-v-brewer

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