Category Archives: July 2014

Administrative Relief Should Protect Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, delatorre@nilc.org, 213-400-7822

Executive Action on Immigration Should Protect Workers and Uphold Labor Standards

153 groups urge Department of Homeland Security not to interfere with workers’ rights

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to the Obama administration, a broad coalition of 153 civil rights, faith-based, and labor groups urge that any executive action on immigration uphold workers’ ability to press for their rights on the job.

The letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson calls for “measures to ensure that workplace retaliation and the enforcement of immigration law do not continue to interfere with workers’ ability to assert their rights on the job.” Secretary Johnson is developing specific recommendations on executive actions to address the broken immigration system at the request of President Obama.

As the letter states, the current immigration system is being abused by exploitative employers who use workers’ immigration status against them, maintaining an underground economy characterized by substandard working conditions and below-market or illegally low pay. Workers who complain about substandard or dangerous conditions, wage theft, or civil rights violations are threatened with firing and immigration-based retaliation.

“A policy change is urgently needed,” the letter to Secretary Johnson says. “We urge you to enact broad relief along with enforcement reforms to guarantee that DHS policies do not interfere with workers’ rights and that immigration enforcement and retaliation are not used by abusive employers. By acting and improving protections for workers who expose illegal workplace conditions, you will raise the standards of all this nation’s workplaces.”

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said, “All workers, regardless of where they were born, should be able to stand up for a safe and just work environment without fearing that they will be ripped from their families by standing up for the safety of their coworkers. Unfortunately, that’s the reality many immigrant workers face today.”

“Until this issue is addressed, abusive employers will continue to game the system at the expense of good employers, and workers’ job site conditions and pay will remain artificially depressed, dragging down the economy,” Hincapié said. “President Obama has the legal authority and moral responsibility to act now.”

Added Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, “We have renewed hope that we will see substantive relief from our nation’s broken immigration system this year. But relief must come with the responsibility of ensuring that our nation’s most vulnerable workers will have their rights protected on the job. Bad employers should no longer be able to game the system at the expense of all working people.”

Rocio Saenz, executive vice president of SEIU said, “The letter is intended to call DHS’s attention to the downward impact that workplace immigration enforcement can have on wages and working conditions. Our experience is that some of the worst employers actually benefit from the current policies because those who pay the best in a given industry tend to be targeted disproportionately, which lowers wages for all workers.”

“We urge President Obama to take immediate action to protect the millions of immigrant workers currently facing labor abuse,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance. “The undocumented cannot be a permanent underclass of exploited workers. We need strong worker protections to end their exploitation — and to lift the floor for the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them.”

The letter to Secretary Johnson is available atwww.nilc.org/document.html?id=1116.

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Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, delatorre@nilc.org

NILC: House Bill Takes Another Step Toward Health Equity for All

WASHINGTON — Health care champions Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Donna Christensen (D-VI) made a bold statement in favor of health equity today by introducing the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2014 (HEAA).

The measure, which was introduced on behalf of the Congressional Tri-Caucus (the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus), seeks to ensure that everyone living in the U.S. has access to affordable health coverage. It also would improve meaningful access to health care and coverage for people with limited English proficiency, create jobs in the growing health care sector, and increase investments in innovative health delivery methods and technologies to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs.

The HEAA builds on the foundation of the Affordable Care Act and further advances measures to address and eliminate health and health care disparities experienced by the growing numbers of immigrant, minority, and underserved communities in the U.S. Below is a statement from Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center:

“The Affordable Care Act’s first year of open enrollment served as a sobering reminder of the fact that for millions of Americans — native-born and immigrant alike — the promise of quality, affordable health care remains unrealized. While millions now have coverage, too many others have been shut out of access to affordable health care.

“That’s why legislation such as the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2014 is so important. This proposal will increase access to quality coverage for all Americans, regardless of where they were born or how much money they have.

“We will continue to work hard — with members of Congress, with community organizations, and with health care providers and advocates — to make sure that the sound proposals outlined in the HEAA become reality.”

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Child Tax Credit Vote

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 25, 2014

CONTACT
Gebe Martinez, gebe.gmnetworking@gmail.com, 703-731-9505

For Shame: House Majority Votes to Harm Millions of Citizen and Latino Children

National Immigration Law Center chides House’s latest attack on children

WASHINGTON — The conservative-led U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to deny the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to as many as 5.5 million children — children who are mostly U.S. citizens and Latino — while permanently expanding the tax credit for higher income households.

The vote came in a year in which House conservatives have advanced measures that have little chance of becoming law but clearly show their callous disregard for the most vulnerable in our society, including the poor, Latinos, immigrant communities, and even children.

The proposed changes to the tax credit would deny the refundable portion of the credit to tax filers using an IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number. The changes would also expand the CTC to higher income families making up to $205,000 per year, while failing to extend a provision that allows working poor families earning as little as $3,000 per year to access the CTC.

The House’s vote to push lower-income families deeper into poverty comes just one day after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) proposed an “anti-poverty” program that would punish families living in poverty if they do not meet benchmarks for success.

The following is a statement by Marielena Hincapié, executive director of National Immigration Law Center (NILC):

“It is a true irony that a House leader, the Budget Committee chairman, would propose benchmarks for success for the poor, when the Congress does everything it can to prevent these families from succeeding, as this CTC vote illustrates.

“This House has failed to increase the minimum wage and extend unemployment benefits. It shamefully cuts needed hunger and health programs.

“The CTC has been a highly effective tool in fighting poverty. In 2012, the program helped more than 3 million American taxpaying familiesclimb out of poverty. Never mind that the tax credit only goes to working poor families, and that those who would be cut off earn an average of $21,000 a year.

“This Congress has repeatedly ignored good policy options and made bad political judgments by attacking children, the poor, Latinos, and immigrants. We will continue to raise our voices in opposition until the values of compassion and fairness are returned to the House.”

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Refugee Moms & Kids in Immigration Detention

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 24, 2014

CONTACT
Gebe Martinez, National Immigration Law Center, gebe.gmnetworking@gmail.com, 703-731-9505, or
Tara Tidwell, Heartland Alliance, TTidwellCullen@heartlandalliance.org, 312-660-1337

Immigrants’ Rights Advocates Call for Moratorium on Deportation of Refugee Women and Children at Artesia Detention Center Until Basic Due Process Needs Are Met

*** A recording of today’s telephonic news conference is available here ***

WASHINGTON — Today, immigrants’ rights lawyers and advocates called on the government to halt deportations of women and children in custody at the remote Artesia family detention center in New Mexico, where the U.S. government began warehousing Central American children and women three weeks ago.

Lawyers and activists representing 22 groups were the first members of the public permitted in the Artesia facility this week during tightly controlled tours. During a telephonic press briefing the groups also demanded that the Obama administration stop the expansion of family detention and allow refugee families to be placed in humane, effective, and far less costly alternative forms of custody. Such a shift would free up resources to address dire access to counsel and due process concerns advocates observed during their visits.

“It was clear that the women and children were confused, intimidated, and had not been given an adequate opportunity to express their fear until deportation was imminent,” said Royce Murray, director of policy, National Immigrant Justice Center. “Forcing vulnerable families through an expedited deportation process without access to lawyers is resulting in egregious due process violations and denying individuals’ rights to seek asylum protection. It is inevitable that the U.S. government is deporting people to places where they face persecution and violence.”

Michelle Brané, director, Migrant Rights and Justice, Women’s Refugee Commission, said, “Plain and simple, family detention is an inhumane and damaging process. It profoundly and irreversibly affects the physical and mental health of children and breaks down parent-child relationships. At Artesia, our concerns go beyond conditions. The administration’s intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families — mothers, babies, and children — back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of U.S. and international law.”

The advocates recounted pervasive confusion among women and children over how to make phone calls and find lawyers from inside the detention center, which effectively cut them off from the outside world and any meaningful opportunity to navigate the complex asylum process. A slip of paper provided to individuals when as they arrived at the facility contained only three lawyers’ names, and officers denied detainees access to phones as punishment when children misbehaved. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security officer told advocates that three families had been hastily pulled from a Guatemala-bound deportation flight on Tuesday because they expressed a fear of persecution in their home country.

“What the U.S. government is doing is unconscionable,” said Cecillia Wang, director, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It is an affront to America’s values and laws to return immigrants who are fleeing for their lives while depriving them of due process, and to force vulnerable children to make their case without a lawyer. The government should suspend deportations from this facility as long as there are not legitimate and fair ways for people there to seek asylum and protection.”

The two on-site visits on Tuesday — one by advocates and another by a team of lawyers — were allowed only after a Los Angeles federal district court judge last week ordered the federal government to allow rights groups to have access to detained children in Nogales, AZ. Within 24 hours of the order, the federal government transferred the detainees to other facilities, but access to Artesia was allowed.

The legal battle stems from a decades-old case, now titled Orantes-Hernandez v. Holder, that resulted in a federal court order protecting the due process rights of detained people from El Salvador.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is lead counsel in theOrantes case along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Southern California, and Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

“What we witnessed at the Artesia facility is horrific. Given the egregious due process violations, the administration must cease any deportations from Artesia until we can guarantee that each individual’s due process rights are being safeguarded,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director, National Immigration Law Center. “We must find alternatives to detention for these mothers, children and families. Congress should also approve the administration’s supplemental funding request without legislative changes, as soon as possible.”

A supplemental funding bill introduced this week by Sen. Mikulski (D-MD) requests $124.5 million to provide access to counsel for unaccompanied children seeking refuge at the southern border and critical resources for the overburdened immigration court system.

Among the organizations that participated in the Artesia detention center tours were: ACLU of New Mexico; Catholic Charities Legal Services of Las Cruces, NM; Detention Watch Network; First Focus; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; National Immigration Forum; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; New Mexico Immigration Law Center; Women’s Refugee Commission; and Young Women United.

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Directors of Development and Finance

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 21, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, delatorre@nilc.org, 213-400-7822

National Immigration Law Center Welcomes New Directors of Development and Finance

LOS ANGELES — The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), a premier immigrants’ rights organization, is proud to announce two new members of its senior management team, Director of Development Nancy Peponis and Director of Finance and Administration Margaret Lopez.

Ms. Peponis, NILC’s first director of development, will give strategic direction to, manage, and coordinate the expansion of NILC’s fundraising efforts. This new position was created with the goal of diversifying NILC’s revenue sources, and especially to expand support from corporations, unions, new foundations, and individuals.

As the director of finance and administration, Ms. Lopez will manage the finances and administrative operations of the nearly five-million-dollar organization.

“We’re excited to be joined by Nancy and Margaret, two very talented individuals in their fields with well-rounded experience in the nonprofit and corporate environments,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of NILC. “They come to NILC at a critical moment in our 35-year history, as we enter a new growth phase to expand our advocacy on behalf of all those living in the United States, regardless of where they were born or how much money they have.”

The new members of NILC’s senior management team also have rich immigrant backgrounds. Ms. Lopez is a first-generation immigrant from Macao, China, and Ms. Peponis is the granddaughter of Greek immigrants.

Before joining NILC, Ms. Peponis served as executive director of Learning Rights Law Center, a Los Angeles legal-services nonprofit, where she managed fund development, marketing, finance, strategic planning, and all administrative functions. She has a wide range of experience in the nonprofit sector, including work in child welfare, human services, health, and the performing arts. She served as the development officer for major gifts at New York City’s Ballet Hispanico. Her for-profit experience has focused on marketing in the areas of entertainment (as a director of marketing for Capitol Records) and technology (as a consultant for Adobe Systems and as co-founder of a software startup). Ms. Peponis received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor of music degree in theory and composition from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Before joining NILC, Ms. Lopez served as director of financial services at Hillsides, a service organization for at-risk children and their families, in Pasadena, Calif., for nearly a decade. Ms. Lopez also has served as controller at the Pacific Asia Museum (also in Pasadena), audit manager at Whittemore & Associates Nonprofit CPAs, Inc., and auditor in various accounting firms. In addition, she has served as an independent consultant helping the nonprofit sector and has taught immediate accounting on an adjunct basis at DeVry University. Ms. Lopez is a certified public accountant in California. She received a master of accounting degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa after receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting from the same university.

Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center is the only advocacy organization in the United States exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their families. NILC advances its mission through an integrated strategy of advocacy, litigation, and communications, along with education and technical assistance. Over the past three decades, NILC has won landmark legal decisions protecting fundamental rights, thwarted policies that would have devastated the lives of low-income immigrants and their family members, and advanced major policies that reinforce our nation’s values of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.

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Lawyers Can Meet with Refugee Children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, delatorre@nilc.org, 213-400-7822

Federal Court Orders Department of Homeland Security to Allow Class Action Lawyers to Meet with Children Fleeing Violence

LOS ANGELES — Salvadoran children who have recently been taken into custody by federal agents after crossing the U.S. border and detained in Nogales, Ariz., will be allowed to meet privately with attorneys to learn their rights, a Los Angeles federal district court judge ruled today.

The order, which requires the federal government to provide attorneys in a class action lawsuit with access to the detained children by July 30, comes after attorneys with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Southern California, and Munger Tolles & Olson LLP were repeatedly denied permission to meet with the children at newly opened federal detention facilities, including one in Nogales, Ariz.

NILC, ACLU and co-counsel have repeatedly expressed concerns that the government may not be complying with the Orantes-Hernandez v. Gonzales federal permanent injunction, which orders the government to protect the due process rights of detained Salvadorans.

“Since its inception, our country has been a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center. “Sadly, in recent weeks detained Central American children and families have been blocked from visiting with attorneys who could help them determine whether they can and should be protected from being returned to the violence they escaped. Today’s ruling is important not just for these children, but for those of us who believe in protecting the most vulnerable among us.”

In its original injunction, the court found that the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which preceded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had engaged in a pattern and practice of coercing and otherwise improperly encouraging Salvadorans to waive their rights to apply for asylum. Salvadorans were pressured to accept voluntary departure and waive a hearing during their arrest and processing, and this pattern and practice of misconduct extended to detention centers, where their access to counsel and information about their rights was severely restricted.

The need to continue the injunction’s protections was reaffirmed by federal courts in 2007 and 2009.

Now, as tens of thousands of refugees cross the U.S. border, immigrants’ rights attorneys have been denied access to the children to determine if their rights and the Orantes injunction are being violated.

“It’s beyond belief that the government has been categorically denying children at Nogales, who are fleeing violence, the right to meet with counsel,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court’s ruling means that despite the urgency of the situation at the border, the children’s rights must be fully respected.”

In the filing with the court, the civil rights groups argued that recent press reports and photographs of the Central American children at the border show that “children and families are being detained in large facilities that were not designed for this purpose, in extremely overcrowded and inadequate conditions (including sleeping on the floor), and where it appears highly likely that the terms of the permanent injunction in this case regarding access to telephones, law libraries and legal rights materials, as well as attorney visitation, are being violated . . . .”

“We are delighted that Judge Morrow has taken this big step to ensure that the rights and safety of these vulnerable children are protected,” said Brad Phillips, a lawyer at Munger Tolles. “Her ruling reaffirms one of the fundamental principles for which this country has always stood — that everyone, no matter their status, is entitled to be treated with fairness and decency and in accordance with our Constitution.”

NILC, the ACLU, and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP are currently serving as class counsel for the Orantes class members. Attorneys on the case include: Linton Joaquin, Karen Tumlin, and Alvaro Huerta of NILC; Ahilan Arulanatham and Jennifer Chang Newell of the ACLU; and Brad Phillips, Steve Kristovich, Susan Nash, David Taylor, Emily Murphy, Kenneth Trujillo-Jamison, and Thomas Clancy of Munger, Tolles & Olson.

The court’s order is available at www.nilc.org/document.html?id=1114.

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Jose Antonio Vargas Should Be Released

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 15, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, delatorre@nilc.com, 213-400-7822

NILC Calls on DHS to Release Jose Antonio Vargas

Texas border arrest of well-known undocumented immigrant highlights “golden cage” border zone residents live in

WASHINGTON — Undocumented leader Jose Antonio Vargas has been detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the McAllen International Airport near the Texas-Mexico border. He arrived in McAllen last week to help United We Dream and its local affiliate, Minority Affairs Council, highlight the dire situation refugee children who have fled increased violence in Central America are facing. Once in McAllen, Vargas became aware of border checkpoints and contacted the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) for guidance.

The following is a statement by Marielena HIncapié, NILC’s executive director:

“The photos of Jose Antonio being handcuffed by Customs and Border Protection agents is a reminder of what millions of aspiring Americans, like Jose, are at risk of. Fortunately, Jose Antonio is a prominent undocumented leader, but this is not the case for most people.

“A little-known fact about our nation’s 100-mile southwest border zone is that everyone’s rights are limited. Along the border — a thriving commercial area full of communities with deep and long ties to this land — ‘show me your papers’ isn’t a potential threat, it’s a way of life.”

“Like so many others, Jose Antonio Vargas wasn’t aware of this reality when he visited the thousands of children who are detained in the area. As a result, he has been detained, and the future of this Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist is in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security.

“We call upon DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to exercise prosecutorial discretion and release Jose immediately. More importantly, we hope this unfortunate event shines a spotlight on the damage this 100-mile-wide rights-free zone causes for millions of border residents, who deserve more than to be treated as suspects in their own neighborhoods. Jose’s detention is another reminder that President Obama must make good on his promise to use his executive authority to allow immigrants such as Jose to obtain temporary status and be free from the fear of deportation. Jose’s contributions to our nation have been many and great. The president should go bold and big now.”

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Nevada Sheriff Restricts Immigration Holds

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 14, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, delatorre@nilc.org

Clark County Sheriff Places Public Safety Over Politics, Restricts Immigration Holds in County

Move comes after months of advocacy from National Immigration Law Center, UNLV Law Clinic, and Holland & Knight LLP

LAS VEGAS — Following the prelitigation efforts of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Immigration Clinic at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, and Holland & Knight LLP, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced that his department would no longer enforce most U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds, also known as ICE holds or immigration detainers. These holds, which request that local law enforcement detain immigrants who are potentially removable, have come under increasing scrutiny across the country.

“With this move, Clark County joins dozens of other states and localities that have determined what we already know: These hold policies that allow people to be detained for weeks at a time, are not constitutionally defensible,” said Melissa Keaney, staff attorney of the National Immigration Law Center. “We hope news of Clark County’s about-face on detainers reaches the ears of officials in Washington, DC, who for too long have advocated for this clearly broken policy of turning local law enforcement officers into de facto immigration agents.”

“Today’s news is win-win for all Clark County residents, regardless of where they were born, said Professor Fatma Marouf of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “By disentangling itself from immigration enforcement activities, Sheriff Gillespie has sent a strong message to immigrants that they should not fear coming forward as victims of — or witnesses to — crime. As a result, public safety will improve for all residents.”

Since 2001, the Clark County Detention Center and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department have operated under a practice of refusing to accept bail from pretrial inmates who are the subject to ICE holds. Sheriff Gillespie’s announcement represents a significant and welcome change in the Sheriff Department’s policy and NILC, UNLV Immigration Clinic, and Holland & Knight applaud the sheriff’s decision.

“After months of prelitigation efforts, we are pleased to see that Sheriff Gillespie has decided to do what’s best for his community by refusing to honor ICE hold requests in most cases,” said Robert Barton, associate at Holland & Knight LLP. “Draconian detention practices tear at the fabric of our society and undermine the values enshrined in our Constitution. This announcement should be considered a victory for all those who believe in protecting the freedoms outlined by our nation’s founders.”

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ICE Immigration Holds in Los Angeles

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, delatorre@nilc.org

Breaking ICE Holds
NILC Praises Los Angeles for Standing Up for Public Safety

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck today announced that city police will no longer honor most requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants suspected of being deportable. This announcement, which comes after several years of immigrant-led organizing, makes Los Angeles one of several California cities that has created a policy that goes beyond the California TRUST Act, which prohibits local law enforcement from turning community members who have been arrested for minor infractions over to ICE. Below is a statement from Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which is based in Los Angeles:

“All Angelenos — no matter where they were born — should celebrate this welcome piece of news that will go a long way toward restoring trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities. By breaking the vicious detention and deportation cycle facilitated by LAPD and ICE, residents of all backgrounds will once again feel safe coming forward as survivors of or witnesses to crime without making themselves, their neighbors, or their loved ones susceptible to being placed in the detention and deportation system.

“Today’s news is the result of years of organizing and advocacy by immigrant Angelenos, who have borne the brunt of President Obama’s disastrous Secure Communities policy, which has streamlined the immigration detainer process since 2009. This program has shattered thousands of Los Angeles families and cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

“Los Angeles is the latest in a long line of cities and counties that have declared a collective ‘Ya basta!’ to ICE detainers. We hope this message reaches open ears in Washington, where U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are reviewing the nation’s detention and deportation practices. They should follow the lead of immigrant-rich Los Angeles and make immigration detainers — which have caused immeasurable pain to immigrant families and hurt public safety for all of us — a thing of the past.”

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Driver’s Licenses for DREAMers in Arizona

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2014

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre, 213-400-7822, delatorre@nilc.org
Patricia Flynn, ACLU national, 212-519-7835, 917-442-4024,media@aclu.org
Larry Gonzalez, MALDEF, 202 466-0879, lgonzalez@rabengroup.com
Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, 602-492-8540, skilar@acluaz.org

Federal Appeals Court Rules Arizona Must Offer Driver’s Licenses to DREAMers

DREAMers celebrate panel’s conclusion that young immigrants are being harmed by Gov. Brewer’s license ban

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was wrong to bar some young immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses, a panel of federal judges ruled today. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division to end its policy of denying licenses to young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. This group of young people—who have permission from the federal government to live and work in the U.S.—are seriously harmed by their inability to get drivers’ licenses, the court said.

The court ruled that Arizona’s license denial policy is likely unconstitutional because it improperly discriminates against some young immigrants. This is the latest legal step in a civil rights coalition’s lawsuit against the discriminatory policy, which 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 Carla Chavarria, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, who said, “Today’s decision will remove a tremendous burden that I—along with thousands of other Arizonans—face on a daily basis. By allowing us to apply for the licenses we need to drive to school and work, we’ll finally be able to contribute more fully to the communities we love.”

Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, said, “Today’s decision finally recognizes that Arizona’s immigrant youth are no different from anyone else authorized to live and work in the country, and to treat them differently is simply wrong. Our plaintiffs have fought long and hard to be recognized by the state they love, and we are thrilled to see that the courts have ordered the removal of one major barrier from allowing these young people to more fully contribute to their families, community, and economy.”

“This is a huge victory for the young immigrants who want nothing more than to make meaningful contributions to communities in their home state of Arizona,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Gov. Brewer chose to play politics with the hopes and dreams of these young people by denying them licenses and we’re extremely happy the court saw through this and found there was no rational reason to single them out.”

The National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Arizona challenged Gov. Brewer’s executive order and related policies in court, alleging the ban violates DREAMers’ constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.

Today, in granting a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit agreed that DREAMers suffered “irreparable harm” because of Gov. Brewer’s policy, particularly because the denial of a driver’s license limits employment opportunities. The court also found that plaintiffs may be successful in establishing that Gov. Brewer’s arbitrary ban improperly infringes on the federal government’s exclusive immigration authority by inhibiting plaintiffs’ ability to work as authorized.

“The Court’s ruling confirms that Arizona’s discrimination against these hardworking young immigrants violates our Constitution. These DREAMers are Americans in their hearts and minds, and it’s time for Gov. Brewer to start treating them that way,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

In September 2013, in an effort to get out from under the lawsuit, Gov. Brewer expanded the drivers’ license ban to other groups of immigrants—including crime victims, domestic violence survivors and their children. Brewer’s administration apparently hoped that expanding the ban to other “deferred action” categories of immigrants would make the ban on DREAMers constitutional by imposing the state’s discriminatory policy on other, similar groups of non-citizens. However, as the Plaintiffs have argued in court, targeting additional groups of immigrants in order to continue the state’s discrimination against DREAMers is equally unconstitutional.

“Today, the federal courts had to step in to prevent Arizona from discriminating against the DACA recipients that it should be embracing,” said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel, who argued the case in the Ninth Circuit. “After yet another loss in court, Arizona should stop its senseless battle against immigrants.”

A copy of the order is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/9thciradacop.pdf.

More information about the lawsuit challenging the policy in Arizona denying driver’s licenses to DREAMers is available at www.nilc.org/drivers-licenses/ (click on the “Litigation” tab).

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