Supreme Court refuses to block driver's licenses for Dreamers
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Wednesday a last-minute appeal by Gov. Jan Brewer to block young immigrants from getting driver's licenses.
In a brief order, the Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to block a decision by an appeals court while it considered Arizona's request to review the case.
This decision paves the way for immigrant youth, living in the state under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to get driver's licenses.
There were no explanation from Kennedy, nor Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, who said they would have granted the state’s request.
“This order is a big holiday gift to the DREAMers – and a lump of coal for Gov. Brewer,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It’s time for Arizona leaders to put this unwise, discriminatory policy behind them and let it end with Governor Brewer’s term.”
Dreamers may not be issued licenses immediately as the case has to return to U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell, who may issue a formal injunction.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week refused Brewer's request to delay a ruling that struck down Arizona's bar on issuing driver's licenses to young immigrants who have been granted deferred action status. The move by the courts means those "Dreamers" will likely soon be eligible for licenses.
The decision affects at least 22,000 young immigrants in Arizona who were granted work permits under President Barack Obama's 2012 decision to grant deferrals for young people from immigration proceedings and deportation.
Brewer fought deferred action immediately.
In August 2012, Brewer ordered state officials not accept work papers from DACA deferred action recipients. As Arizona bars issuing a license to anyone not "authorized under federal law," the DACA recipients found themselves able to stay in the state, but unable to drive.
Over the summer, a three-judge panel said there was no legitimate interest in treating the Dreamers differently.
Arguing that the state's policy appears to be motivated by animosity to the young immigrants and is likely unconstitutional, the court ordered an injunction blocking Brewer's 2012 executive order.
"We discern no rational relationship between defendants’ policy and a legitimate state interest," wrote Judge Harry Pregerson for the judicial panel.
The unanimous 40-page decision ordered the case be sent back to a lower court, where U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell had denied an injunction in a suit filed on behalf of those in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The appeal court's remand directed Campbell to order the state Department of Transportation to provide licensees to DACA recipients, saying that the plantiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their case in a full trial.
Arizona law bars issuing a license to anyone whose presence is not "authorized under federal law."
Until August 2012, the state Department of Transportation listed federal employment authorization documents as proving such an authorized presence.
On Aug. 15, 2012, Brewer issued an executive order that meant state officials could not accept work papers from DACA deferred action recipients, who are immigrants who were brought here illegally as children who are allowed to stay in the United States for renewable two-year terms without fear of being deported.
Immigrants covered under the program are required to apply for work authorization documentation, which can be used to apply for a driver’s license in Arizona. But Brewer’s order stopped that.
After a suit was filed, the state again changed its policies, refusing to issue licenses to recipients of some other forms of deferred action, including crime victims and domestic violence survivors. Officials said that meant the policy did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as claimed in the suit.
"We hold that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm unless Defendants’ policy is enjoined," the appeals judge wrote. The state policy is a major barrier to employment for people who are required to apply for work permits under DACA, the court said. Further, the policy means the state impermissably "assumes for itself the federal prerogative of classifying noncitizens."
Because Arizona issues licenses to some who fall under other types of deferred action programs, the policy is an equal protection violation, the court ruled.
"In both cases, the federal government has allowed noncitizens to remain in the United States, has pledged not to remove them during the designated period, and has authorized them to work in this country," the judge wrote.
Brewer's policy "appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients themselves, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them. Such animus, however, is not a legitimate state interest," the court said.