Federal Court Affirms Arizona Cannot Withhold Drivers Licenses to DACA Beneficiaries

952313_gavel.jpgThe Silicon Immigration Lawyer Blog has frequently discussed President's Obama's federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Enacted in 2012, the President's "DACA" provides a mechanism for certain undocumented foreign nationals to receive employment authorization and the suspension of their deportation proceedings if they arrived in the U.S. when they were children and have a clean criminal record. (For more information on all of the requirements for the DACA program, readers are encouraged to visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website).

Many states have embraced the DACA program and its beneficiaries, with New York, California, and Texas leading the rest of the nation in allowing DACA beneficiaries to qualify for in-state tuition at state universities. However, unfortunately not all of the states have been so welcoming to DACA beneficiaries.

Specifically, the state of Arizona remains hostile to this population, and its state government seems committed to making life as difficult as possible for these people. A clear example of this goal is that, apparently in direct in response to the implementation of the DACA program, Arizona state officials created their own policy which prohibited DACA beneficiaries from obtaining Arizona driver's licenses.

If this policy had been allowed to stand, potentially hundreds of DACA beneficiaries - who are now legally eligible to work - would have been left without the ability to legally travel to and from their workplaces. Thankfully, immigration advocates and DACA beneficiaries decided to do something about this unfair policy and promptly sued the state of Arizona and asked the judge to put a stop to the state's policy (a legal remedy called an injunction).

Five Arizona residents and DACA beneficiaries filed the lawsuit in the state's district court. At that level, the judge denied the plaintiffs' injunction even though the judge agreed with their argument that the driver's license policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, the judge still denied the injunction because he did not agree that the plaintiffs would suffer "irreparable harm" from this constitutional violation.

Since the district judge denied the injunction, the plaintiffs appealed their case to the next level of the court system, which is the circuit court. The circuit court judges granted the injunction request on the grounds that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm if the policy were permitted to take effect.

According to the court documents, the judge panel predicated its decision on two grounds. First, the judges explained that the Arizona policy, were it to be implemented, would frustrate the federal government's goal of enabling DACA beneficiaries to work legally in the United States (because they would not be able to legally drive to and from their workplaces). Second, the judges affirmed that the policy violated the plaintiffs' Equal Protection rights since the policy only harms drivers' licenses applicants who have employment authorization pursuant to DACA, and does not adversely affect similarly situated applicants whose employment authorization is pursuant to other immigration-related benefits.

The circuit court's decision is a great victory for DACA beneficiaries. If you or a loved one is in the U.S. without status and think you may qualify for DACA, contact our office today at 650-293-0270 to speak to a skilled member of our legal team about your possible immigration options.

Additional Blog Posts

Judiciary Committee Passes The Legal Workforce Act, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 15, 2013
Changing Minds About Immigration: UFW's "Take Our Jobs" Campaign, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2010

Immigration News / by Michelle Gee