Judge Suggests He Will Strike Down Arizona Discrimination Against Many Immigrant Drivers

After President Obama opened the door to temporary legal status for more than a million young immigrants who came to the United States as children, Arizona and other states imposed their own hurdles to these deferred action beneficiaries living and working in the United States as the policy intended. On Thursday, a federal judge suggested he would likely find unconstitutional an Arizona policy denying driver’s licenses to these Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries. In a ruling declining to temporarily block Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy pending trial, U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell — a George W. Bush appointee and former clerk to the late conservative Justice Williams Rehnquist — said there is likely no rational justification for Brewer flouting federal immigration policy and treating deferred action beneficiaries differently than all other temporary legal residents:

The Governor’s disagreement with the DACA program may be a rational political or policy view in the broad sense – reasonable people certainly can disagree on an issue as complex and difficult as immigration – but it provides no justification for saying that an Arizona driver’s license may be issued to one person who has been permitted to remain temporarily in the country on deferred action status – say for an individual humanitarian reason – while another person who has been permitted to remain temporarily in the country on deferred action status under the DACA program is denied a license. … The Governor’s political disagreement with the DACA program as “backdoor amnesty” does not change the fact that both individuals have been allowed by the federal government to live and work here, nor does it identify a reason that one of the individuals presents less of a driver’s-license-related risk to the State.

The DACA program was intended to give young undocumented immigrants access to legal employment while they remain in the country, but depriving these beneficiaries of driver’s licenses of and other basic government services imposes major obstacles to achieving that goal. This hostility toward federal immigration policy should come as no surprise from the state that brought us SB 1070 and other discriminatory immigration laws, many parts of which have already been struck down by courts.

In opting not to block Brewer’s policy pending trial, Judge Campbell reasoned that the plaintiffs were not suffering irreparable harm, because most of them either continued to drive without a license out of necessity, or had other means of transportation. But this does not mitigate the risk that these immigrants incur every day they drive without a license, nor the public safety risks and hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims costs imposed by uninsured drivers. These factors will likely be a consideration in a final ruling by Campbell, and he appears poised to find Arizona’s policy a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Campbell also rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the case.