9th Circuit Reaffirms That Arizona May Not Deny Driver’s Licenses to DACAmented Youth

April 6, 2016

Juan Gastelum, gastelum@nilc.org, 213-375-3149
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org, 212-284-7347
Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, skilar@acluaz.org, 602-773-6007

Federal Appeals Court Reaffirms Arizona May Not Deny Driver’s Licenses to DACAmented Youth

PASADENA, CA — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed a lower court’s ruling that permanently blocks Arizona from denying driver’s licenses to immigrants who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“Yesterday’s ruling affirms once again that Arizona’s insistence on discriminating against its immigrant youth is not only morally abhorrent, it’s also illegal,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “The decision makes it clear that there is no conceivable justification for Arizona’s discriminatory effort to thwart its young immigrants from obtaining the driver’s licenses they need go to school and to work, and to provide for their families.”

Victor Viramontes, national senior counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “Arizona continues to discriminate against the Latino immigrants that it should be embracing. Instead of choosing legitimate policies, Arizona insists on paying attorneys’ fees and wasting taxpayer monies on unconstitutional attacks directed at its own residents.”

The ruling in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, a lawsuit filed in November 2012, follows a series of victories by young immigrants in the case. In early 2015, the federal district court in Arizona permanently blocked the ban on driver’s licenses for immigrant youth that was ordered by former Governor Jan Brewer in 2012. Prior to that, in July 2014, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the policy was likely unconstitutional and that people with DACA—who have permission from the federal government to live and work in the U.S.—are seriously harmed by their inability to obtain driver’s licenses.

Jennifer Chang Newell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, “While Arizona has been stubbornly fighting this legal battle, these young people have been getting on with their lives, legally driving in all 50 states and contributing their talents to their communities across the country. It’s time for Arizona to move on as well.”

Arizona enacted this discriminatory policy in 2012, shortly after the Obama administration announced the creation of the DACA program. Arizona is the only state in the U.S. that has continued in its efforts to deny licenses to “DACAmented” youth, of whom there are roughly 26,000 in the state.

“In a strongly worded opinion, the unanimous panel found that the animus held by Arizona officials resulted in an illegal attempt to deny a basic need,” said Dan Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona senior counsel. “It is past time to end the attempts to make immigrants’ lives unbearable, and the resulting damage to Arizona’s reputation and economy.”

Yesterday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit is available at https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2016/04/05/15-15307.pdf.

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