Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Seek to Halt Discriminatory Arizona Driver’s License Policy

January 20, 2017

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

Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Seek to Halt Discriminatory Arizona Driver’s License Policy

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Civil and immigrants’ rights attorneys asked a federal court on Friday to temporarily block Arizona from continuing to deny certain lawfully present immigrants, including survivors of domestic violence, access to driver’s licenses.

The request for a preliminary injunction comes nearly four months after the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), and the Ortega Law Firm sued Arizona on behalf of five immigrants who are recipients of deferred action, which grants them temporary permission to live and work in the United States. The suit alleges that the Arizona policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

“This unjust law is wrongfully denying otherwise eligible Arizonans the licenses they need to ensure they are able to meet their families’ basic needs,” said Nicholas Espíritu, a staff attorney at NILC who presented oral arguments at today’s hearing. “In many cases, the law is preventing some of the most vulnerable Arizonans from overcoming their challenging circumstances. These individuals especially need immediate relief.”

“Rather than following federal law, Arizona chooses to persist with its campaign against immigrants and continues to waste taxpayer money defending these blatantly illegal and discriminatory policies that serve no one,” said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF national senior counsel, who also presented court arguments today.

Before 2012, anyone who had deferred action and was otherwise qualified could obtain a driver’s license in Arizona. However, shortly after the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, then-governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order mandating that DACA recipients be denied driver’s licenses. Brewer’s policy was eventually struck down by both a federal district court and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Despite this, Arizona officials continue to deny driver’s licenses to other immigrants with deferred action, who are federally authorized to be present in the U.S. These include people awaiting processing of humanitarian visas, such as survivors of domestic violence.

Among the Arizonans 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 in 2015 but was denied a driver’s license last year. Without a license, Cruz has found it difficult to get to her necessary medical treatment appointments.

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