Courts Debate DREAMers, Driver’s Licenses

December 16, 2013

(Photo by Nick Blumberg-KJZZ)
Deborah Robles, a documented DREAMer and organizer with the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, addresses the crowd before they head into the governor's office in August 2012.

A federal appeals court may be poised to void a decision by Gov. Jan Brewer that denies driver’s licenses to those in the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA.) The decision to block the licenses prompted an appeal by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which asked the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule the state is not authorized to make that decision unilaterally.

In a hearing earlier this month, the appellate judges were largely interested in whether being denied the right to drive meant the DACA participants were suffering irreparable harm, a requirement for courts to enjoin a law or practice, while the case is heard.

The governor’s lawyer, Tim Berg told the court U.S. District Judge David Campbell had found no irreparable harm, including for people denied the right to drive. Judge Marsha Berzon questioned Berg, saying that argument makes no sense to her, and asked Berg about one person who said there are jobs she would have applied for if she had a driver’s license.

“I think that the record's clear that person was working in a job at that time the deposition was taken,” Berg said.

“So what?” Berzon asked. “Because she's not starving, she doesn't have irreparable harm?”

Berg says people are driving without licenses, claiming there is no evidence anyone is being denied the legal ability to work, but he acknowledged the governor could not block DACA recipients from working in Arizona, something Berzon said proves her point.

 “For many reasons it seems strange for the state to be standing up here and saying, well, this is all not a problem for people to work because they can just drive illegally,” Berzon said. “There are problems for everybody else in your state if you have people driving around illegally.”

The court has not indicated when it will rule in the case.