Court Halts Brewer's Denial Of Licenses For Immigrants

July 07, 2014

A federal appeals court has ruled against an Arizona policy denying driver’s licenses to certain immigrants who have been spared from deportation.

In 2012, the Obama administration created a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowing immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to stay in the country and get a two-year renewable work permit. Applicants must have come to the United States before they turned 16, be younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, be in school or have graduated from high school or a GED program, or have served in the military.

Weeks later, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order denying driver’s licenses and other state benefits to those immigrants, which was quickly challenged in court.

Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Brewer’s move was motivated by animus, not a legitimate state interest, and the young immigrants were harmed by unequal treatment by the state.

The state revised the policy late last summer by saying it would stop issuing driver's licenses to all people who receive deportation deferrals from the federal government, not just young immigrants given protection under Obama's policy.

The case now goes back to a lower court, which has been ordered to put the driver’s license ban on hold.

Karen Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center was one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

“It is possible that based on the ruling today, Arizona will just end this policy for all time, making further litigation unnecessary. That certainly is our hope, because the writing is clearly on the wall that this policy is unconstitutional any way you turn it,” Tumlin said. “The court talks very eloquently about the numerous ways in which our plaintiffs have suffered harms in terms of restricting their ability to pursue their education, to expand their professional horizons, to interact with family members, and to basically go about their business.”

In a written statement, Brewer claims the Ninth Circuit disregarded judicial precedent and procedure, and says she is analyzing options for appealing the decision. If Arizona fights to uphold the ban, Tumlin said she and her colleagues will be ready.

The governor's attorneys said the driver's license policy grew out of concerns over the liability of giving licenses to people who aren't authorized to be in the country and reducing the risk of licenses being used to improperly access public benefits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated 7/7/2014 at 1:39 p.m.