Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Challenge Arizona Policy Denying Driver’s Licenses to Survivors of Domestic Violence and Other Immigrants

September 13, 2016

Juan Gastelum, NILC, 213-375-3149, [email protected]
Sandra Hernandez, MALDEF, 213-629-2512, ext. 129, [email protected]

Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Challenge Arizona Policy Denying Driver’s Licenses to Survivors of Domestic Violence and Other Immigrants

Class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of five immigrants who received deferred action and work permits

PHOENIX — Immigrant and civil rights groups have filed a legal challenge to Arizona’s policy of denying certain lawfully present immigrants access to driver’s licenses.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the Ortega Law Firm filed a federal class-action lawsuit in Phoenix on behalf of five individuals, including a mother of two who is currently battling cancer. All five individuals received deferred action and have work permits. Four await processing of visas for survivors of domestic violence and other serious crimes. Another has deferred action to care for her child with spina bifida.

The lawsuit alleges that Arizona’s policy, which fails to provide driver’s licenses to all deferred action recipients, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Federal law prohibits arbitrary and unsupported discrimination against groups of people; there is no basis for denying licenses to recipients of deferred action.

“Arizona is unjustly preventing some of its most vulnerable residents from driving lawfully, impeding their ability to live safely apart from their abusers and hindering their prospects for a better life,” said Nicholas Espíritu, a staff attorney at NILC. “As we’ve seen, these discriminatory policies not only run afoul of the law, they’re also bad for public safety and well-being.”

“Arizona continues to double down on its anti-immigrant campaigns that directly harm Latinos in all walks of life,” stated Victor Viramontes, MALDEF’s National Senior Counsel. “Like before, a federal court will have to tell Arizona that it cannot discriminate against its own residents.”

Before 2012, all individuals with federal work authorization were able to obtain a driver’s license in Arizona. However, after President Obama’s announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, then-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order mandating that DACA recipients be denied driver’s licenses. Brewer’s policy was eventually struck down by a federal judge.

Arizona officials, however, are now denying driver’s licenses to other immigrants who, like DACA recipients, are federally authorized to be present in the United States, according to the lawsuit.

Among the women challenging the state’s policy is Maria del Carmen Cruz Hernandez, a single mother of two who is battling cancer. Hernandez received deferred action and a work permit last year but was denied a driver’s license this year. Without a license, Cruz has found it hard to attend necessary medical treatment. Moreover, she has struggled economically. Cruz has also lost out on several employment opportunities that would pay more than her current job cleaning houses, because they would require her to drive.

“I need a driver’s license primarily for work and to live my daily life,” said Cruz. “Even regular errands take a significant amount of time when you’re limited to commuting by bus. That’s time I could be spending with my family.”

Another plaintiff, Guadalupe Nava, attempted to get a driver’s license three times using a work permit she received after applying for a visa for domestic abuse survivors. Each time she was turned away. As a single mother of two small girls, Nava has had to drive without a license on occasion to keep up with her job and family responsibilities.

The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in this case, Osaria, et al. v. Ducey, et al., is available at

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