U.S. Ninth Circuit Decrees that DACA Recipients are Entitled to Arizona Driver's Licenses

Arizona must continue allowing undocumented immigrants with work permits and protection from deportation to apply for driver’s licenses, a three-judge U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled.

The judges affirmed a permanent injunction blocking former Governor Jan Brewer’s executive order that denied driver’s licenses to undocumented young immigrants who receive work permits and deportation reprieves under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

U.S. District Court Judge David G. Campbell issued the permanent injunction in January 2015, a month after he granted a preliminary injunction and ordered Arizona to begin allowing DACA recipients to apply for driver’s licenses.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich wanted the permanent injunction overturned. He appealed to the Ninth Circuit in February 2015. His office said in a statement at the time that “Attorney General Brnovich believes it is up to each state, not the president, to determine who is eligible to receive a driver's license.”

Brewer argued when she issued her executive order that President Barack Obama didn’t have the power to enact the DACA program. She also said the state couldn’t issue driver’s licenses to DACA recipients because the program didn’t grant them a lawful presence in the United States. Under state law, applicants can receive a driver’s license only if they prove they have lawful presence.

However, attorneys representing a group of DACA recipients who sued the state to overturn the driver’s license ban argued that the state was discriminating against DACA recipients. They pointed out that the state already had been issuing driver’s licenses to other non-citizens who presented the same kind of work permits that DACA recipients were given as proof of lawful presence.

The attorneys also argued that DACA recipients would suffer irreparable harm as a result of the enforcement of the driver’s license ban. They said the inability to get driver’s licenses made it difficult for DACA recipients to pursue new jobs, go to school or work, advance their careers, and develop businesses opportunities.

“They thus suffer financial harm and significant opportunity costs,” the attorneys said in court documents.

Campbell sided with the DACA recipients who sued, and the state began issuing them driver’s licenses in December 2014. Today, thousands of DACA recipients have received driver’s licenses.

Tuesday’s ruling is a victory for DACA recipients and groups like the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“Today once again we celebrate a win as the [Ninth]Circuit Court of Appeals sides on the right side of history and shuts down Arizona’s irrational and unconstitutional attempt to keep dreamers off the road,” the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition said on it’s Facebook page.

The group noted the long legal battle to obtain driver’s licenses for DACA recipients began in August 2012, when Brewer announced her executive order. But they said Brnovich “has made it his mission to hinder our progress by taking the litigation to a higher court, but has once again failed to justify Arizona's discriminatory actions.”

Brnovich could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. His office hasn’t said whether he will take further action.

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