Civil Rights, Immigration

Arizona must grant driver’s licenses to dreamers

(A version of this post first appeared at Latino Rebels.)

In a short order issued Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Arizona’s last-ditch request to block issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented students granted deportation relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

This lawsuit has been moving through the courts for years. Shortly after DACA was announced in 2012, the administration of outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer issued an order prohibiting beneficiaries under DACA to obtain driver’s licenses, arguing the program’s work authorizations were not sufficient proof of legal status. A number of civil rights organizations joined forces to challenge the legality of Brewer’s order in federal court.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Arizona, agreed with the civil rights organizations that Brewer’s policy was likely discriminatory towards undocumented youth. The court ordered the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division to treat the students as they would other noncitizens who can show employment authorization documents as proof of residency.

Dissatisfied with the decision, Arizona asked the same court for a rehearing, which was denied. Finally, Arizona asked the Supreme Court to halt the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. The high court denied that request on Wednesday.

Interestingly, three justices—Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas—would have temporarily granted Arizona’s request to halt driver’s licenses. The same justices dissented in the 2012 case Arizona v. United States, which struck down important parts of SB1070, Arizona’s infamous show-me-your-papers law.

The case is not over: Arizona only requested a halt to the order forcing the state to accept DREAMers’ papers for purposes of driver’s licenses. The case is technically still “live” in the lower courts, which means there hasn’t been a definitive pronouncement that Brewer’s policy is unconstitutional.

But given the July ruling and today’s move by the Supreme Court, it’s likely Arizona will seek a settlement with the plaintiffs, unless Gov.-elect Doug Ducey, who has faced pressure to discontinue the policy, continues defending the lawsuit. According to AZcentral.com, Arizona is one of two states preventing so-called DREAMers from obtaining driver’s licenses.

Arizona’s loss before the Supreme Court arrives a day after U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab, a George W. Bush appointee who sits in Pennsylvania, struck down President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which is set to expand the original DACA program to include parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, among other provisions.

The ruling, which arrived less than a month since the president’s announcement, has been sharply criticized by legal scholars and commentators. Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, called the decision “exceedingly strange.”

In a statement reported by The Huffington Post, a Justice Department spokesperson called the Schwab’s decision “unfounded” and noted that an appropriate response was forthcoming.

Other challenges to Obama’s immigration order, from Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and a group of more than a dozen conservative governors led by Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, have been initiated in federal courts in Washington, D.C., and Texas.

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