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Arizona in court over licenses for Dreamers, again

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Arizona in court over licenses for Dreamers, again

  • ADOT

Federal judges will once again consider whether Arizona must provide driver's licenses to young adult immigrants known as "Dreamers." 

In oral arguments made Thursday in front of a three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, lawyers for Arizona said that the Obama administrations' Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was unconstitutional. Therefore, they argued, Arizona can choose to deny driver's licenses — which would affect around 22,000 people.

This represents a new wrinkle in a protracted legal battle that has already swung through the federal court system once, ultimately reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, and has cost Arizona taxpayers at least $1.5 million. 

The case appeared to have reached its end on December 19, when U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell ordered the state to begin granting driver's licenses, however, in February new Attorney General Mark Brnovich resumed the case, filing for yet another appeal

The state has already lost in federal court several times, including a last-minute appeal made by former-Governor Jan Brewer to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Dec. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected her attempt to block "Dreamers" from getting licenses and kicked the decision back to Campbell. 

"Arizona has been repeatedly unsuccessful in convincing the courts that there's a basis to deny licenses to thousands of people," said Nicholas Espiritu, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. "They've attempted to rehash arguments from before, but this time they've also attempted to challenge the DACA program itself." 

The program, announced in June 2012 by President Obama,  allows immigrants who were brought here illegally as children to apply to stay in the United States for renewable two-year terms, giving them a work permit and protection from deportation by federal authorities. 

Brewer reacted, issuing an executive order on Aug. 15, 2012 that state officials could not accept work papers from DACA recipients. Previously, the Arizona Department of Transportation accepted federal employment authorization documents as proof that someone had authorization to be in the country and should be issued a driver's license. 

As Arizona had barred issuing a license to anyone not "authorized under federal law," DACA recipients found themselves legally able to remain in the state and work, but unable to drive. 

In 2013, DACA recipients filed suit challenging Brewer's order, arguing that the state's policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state responded by refusing to issue licenses to immigrants covered by other forms of deferred action, including crime victims and domestic violence survivors.

However, Campbell rejected that logic and ruled against the state. Brewer appealed to the 9th Circuit, but ultimately lost in June 2014 when the court found that Arizona policy of denying licenses to specific categories of immigrants would likely be found unconstitutional. The court issued an injunction blocking Brewer's policy. 

Brewer once again appealed, but in November, the full panel of judges refused to reconsider the previous order. 

"We discern no rational relationship between defendants’ policy and a legitimate state interest," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson for the panel. 

In late December, the court once again rejected an attempt to delay the program, resulting in final decision by Campbell that allowed "Dreamers" to get driver's licenses.

On Jan. 22, 2015 Campbell finalized his order with a permanent injunction. 

The state could appeal to a full-panel at the 9th Circuit Court, and could once again push the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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