Appeals Court Blocks Arizona Driver’s License Ban For DREAMers

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

An appeals court has blocked Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) move to prevent some undocumented immigrants in her state from obtaining driver’s licenses. The ruling will allow undocumented immigrants who came here as children and qualified for Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to obtain driver’s licenses in Arizona, at least while the court hears arguments and issues a final ruling on the constitutionality of a driver’s license ban.

After Obama initiated the DACA program to give some undocumented immigrants who came here as children temporarily legal presence, Brewer countered with her own executive order that prohibited those DACA beneficiaries from obtaining driver’s licenses, saying “the Obama amnesty plan doesn’t make them legally here” even though they have the same work authorization papers that allow other noncitizens to qualify for driver’s licenses.

In Monday’s ruling, the unanimous panel sided with the DACA plaintiffs suing Brewer, finding they were “likely to suffer irreparable harm” and unequal treatment by the state. The ruling temporarily blocks Brewer’s driver’s license ban until the court issues a final ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit judges reasoned that DACA recipients are “similarly situated” to noncitizens, who are allowed to obtain licenses using their employment authorization documents (EADs). DACA recipients have similar documents and the majority found no rational basis for why “Employment Authorization Documents held by noncitizens demonstrate federally authorized presence, while DACA recipients’ Employment Authorization Documents do not” since the federal government has in both cases “pledged not to remove them during the designated period, and has authorized them to work in this country.”

One of the appeals court judges who joined in the majority opinion was Judge Morgan Christen, who has the rare distinction of receiving judicial appointments from both former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and President Barack Obama. Christen was appointed in 2009 by Palin to sit on the Alaska Supreme Court before being appointed to the federal appeals court. Christen “agreed that plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their equal protection claim.”

Previously in May 2013, U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled that Arizona’s policy was likely discriminatory, but rejected the argument that Brewer’s policy was unconstitutional.

Erika Andiola, a prominent DACA recipient from the Dream Action Coalition said in a statement Monday, “In Arizona, it can mean the difference between driving to school and work with no fear and being stopped and deported for having no license.”

Studies show that giving driver’s licenses to unlicensed drivers, a category that includes many undocumented immigrants, would improve public safety because drivers would have to pass a test before they obtain a license and will need to purchase auto insurance.

While the ruling temporarily lifts the driver’s license ban for DACA recipients in Arizona, it will not affect a ban for other undocumented immigrants in Arizona.