Ariz. Immigrant Driver License Policy Hits Roadblock in 9th Cir. - Decided
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Ariz. Immigrant Driver License Policy Hits Roadblock in 9th Cir.

Arizona immigrants celebrated a victory in court Monday, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement of a policy that prohibits young immigrants from receiving Arizona driver's licenses.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA, also known as the "Dream Act") gives certain residents who were brought to the United States without documentation as children a chance to legally remain in the country and work. But under Arizona's policy, these "Dreamers" couldn't use their federally authorized employment documents as proof of their legal presence in the country.

Why did the 9th Circuit block this driver's license policy?

Arizona Driver's License Policy

Arizona law states that the Arizona Department of Transportation (DOT) cannot issue a driver's license to an applicant who does not submit satisfactory proof that "the applicant's presence in the United States is authorized under federal law."

Residents eligible for DACA are required by the terms of the program to apply for federal employment authorization. These Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), once received, typically serve as a form of proof of lawful presence in the United States.

However, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order in response to DACA in 2012, ordering state agencies like the DOT to refuse Dreamers driver's licenses even with valid EADs. However, the DOT continued to accept EADs from non-DACA applicants for driver's licenses.

9th Circuit Finds Equal Protection Violation

The 9th Circuit took on this policy in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer, where five Dreamers with EADs were suing over their inability to obtain Arizona driver's licenses. The federal appellate court determined that since the only difference between Dreamers with EADs and other eligible driver's license applicants with EADs was their status under DACA, Arizona's government was discriminating based on DACA status.

When a government action discriminates against a class of persons, like Dreamers, at the very least the law must be rationally related to a legitimate state interest -- what's known as the rational basis test. Since some immigrants who are facing deportation may still receive an Arizona driver's license as long as they have EADs, the 9th Circuit couldn't find any rational relation between the policy and the goal of only granting licenses to those with legal status. To the contrary, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition ruling accuses Arizona of taking on the role of classifying non-citizens -- a role which exclusively belongs to the federal government.

After determining that the Arizona policy was likely to be struck down on equal protection grounds, the 9th Circuit granted a preliminary injunction which blocks the state from enforcing its driver's license policy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Arizona officials are reviewing the ruling.

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