Ruling on Driver’s Licenses for Arizona DACA Recipients

November 24, 2014

Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center, 213-400-7822, [email protected]
Isabel Alegria, ACLU national 415-343-0785, 646-438-4146, [email protected]
Larry Gonzalez, MALDEF, 202 466-0879, [email protected]
Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, 602-492-8540, [email protected]

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Arizona’s Request to Rehear Driver’s License Case

Decision — at long last — paves the way for young immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses

SAN FRANCISCO — Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected a request to reconsider its earlier ruling that Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s denial of driver’s licenses to certain young immigrants is unconstitutional. The move validates a decision issued in July ordering the state to stop depriving those young immigrants who came to this country as children from obtaining a driver’s license. This group of young people — who have permission from the federal government to live and work in the U.S. — are seriously impaired by their inability to get drivers’ licenses, the court said earlier this year.

Today’s ruling is the latest legal victory in a civil rights coalition’s lawsuit against a discriminatory policy that prevented Arizona youth granted work authorization through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from applying for state-issued identification.

The news was welcomed by plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Arizona DREAM Act Coalition President Dulce Matuz, who said, “Governor Brewer has wasted countless taxpayer dollars defending a misguided and harmful policy that has been rejected time and time again by the courts. We hope today’s announcement allows us to finally apply for the identification document that rightly identifies us as Arizonans.”

“With today’s decision, the court has made crystal clear that Arizona’s quixotic quest to turn immigrants into villains is constitutionally unsound, and it vindicates our courageous plaintiffs,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “This should serve as a wakeup call for the new governor: Do what’s best for your state by allowing everyone who should be able to get a license to do so, so they can drive to school and work and participate fully in their communities.”

MALDEF National Senior Counsel, Victor Viramontes, said: “Arizona’s anti-immigrant campaign is a destructive policy that has proven to be very costly for tax payers. Now, Arizona has lost yet again in federal court, and DACA recipients will finally receive the licenses that Arizona should never have denied them.”

For more than two years, the plaintiffs in this case have fought for the right to earn driver’s licenses.

In August of 2012, Brewer issued an order specifically denying licenses to young immigrants who are granted permission to live and work in the U.S. under the DACA program. The National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the ACLU of Arizona challenged the executive order and related policies in court, alleging that the ban violates DACA recipients’ constitutional right to equal protection under the law as well as the principles of federal supremacy in the area of immigration policy and law.

After a federal district court held, in May 2013, that Arizona’s policy likely constituted unconstitutional discrimination, the state sought to expand its denial of licenses to additional categories of immigrants, unsuccessfully seeking to avoid the appearance of discrimination.

In July 2014, the Ninth Circuit determined that Brewer’s policy was likely to be found unconstitutional and approved a preliminary injunction to allow immigrant youth to apply for licenses. This injunction was placed on hold after Arizona requested rehearing en banc, which would have provided the state an opportunity to make their arguments in front of an 11-judge panel.

Before denying Arizona’s rehearing request, the court had invited the United States to share its views on whether the case should be reheard. In September, the United States filed a brief with the court agreeing that Arizona’s policy is unconstitutional and opposing its rehearing request.

“The Ninth Circuit, district court, and federal government all agree: Arizona’s denial of driver’s licenses to hardworking young immigrants violates our Constitution,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It is long past time for Governor Brewer to read the writing on the wall and let the DREAMers drive!”

“A copy of the court’s order is available here.

For more information about the lawsuit challenging the policy in Arizona denying driver’s licenses to DREAMers, visit

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