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Federal Court Says Arizona Cannot Prevent DACA Beneficiaries from Obtaining Drivers Licenses

1409595_gavel_5.jpgAs our readers are no doubt aware, in June 2012 the Obama Administration enacted a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (commonly referred to as DACA). DACA allows certain foreign nationals who were brought to the U.S. as children and who remain in the country without immigration authorization to benefit from the deferral of their deportation proceedings and to receive employment authorization.

Seemingly in response to the enactment of DACA, Arizona state officials enacted their own policy, which prevented DACA beneficiaries from receiving Arizona driver’s licenses. This policy would have left hundreds of now legally eligible to work potential employees without the legal means to travel to and from their place of employment. Thankfully, a number of DACA beneficiaries took matters into their own hands and sued Arizona in order to stop this discriminatory and retaliatory policy.

The District Court Case

The plaintiffs were five DACA beneficiaries who filed a lawsuit against Arizona and sought an injunction to prohibit state officials from carrying out the policy against issuing driver’s licenses to DACA beneficiaries. The lawsuit was originally filed in the district court, where the judge denied the injunction request because the plaintiffs were not going to suffer “irreparable harm” from the admitted constitutional violation. (The judge did agree that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause.)

The Circuit Court Case

The plaintiffs appealed the district judge’s decision up to the circuit court. The circuit court judge panel disagreed with the lower court decision, and stated that the injunction should be entered as the plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm should the policy go into effect.

The judge panel made the decision to grant the injunction for two reasons. First, the judges point out that the policy would work to frustrate the federal government’s goal of allowing DACA beneficiaries to work, since the policy prevents the beneficiaries from being able to legally drive to and from their place of employment.

Second, the judges explain that the policy violates the plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause because the policy only adversely affects applicants for driver’s licenses whose employment authorization is derived from their DACA status, and not applicants whose employment authorization is derived from other immigration petitions.

The Rant

The circuit court decision is a great victory for immigrants’ rights advocates, for DACA beneficiaries in the state of Arizona, and possibly for DACA beneficiaries all over the country because other states will hopefully refrain from passing similar laws in the wake of this decision.

However, courts around the country will likely be hearing more cases similar to this one as the promised comprehensive immigration reform remains in flux, and states continue to enact more and more immigration-related laws of their own. While some of these state-level laws, such as those found in New York, are friendly to our foreign national population, others are not. It remains to be seen how Congress will deal with the hot-button issue of immigration reform. For the latest news on this and other immigration topics, continue to check back with our blog.

Additional Blog Posts

The Possible Impact of Sequestration for Employers and Immigrant Workers, ImmigRantings, April 22, 2013
More States Expected to Exert Control Regarding Illegal Immigration Problems, ImmigRantings, August 3, 2013