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, 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.

Civil Rights, Supreme Court

Latinos and Ferguson

A survey by Pew Research during the height of the Ferguson protests revealed that Latinos were not as interested as blacks and whites in the news surrounding the death of Michael Brown.

Of those surveyed, a mere 18 percent said to be following the events “very closely”—lower than blacks and whites at 54 and 25 percent, respectively.

Pew did not explain the gulf, but a few interrelated factors come to mind: limited news coverage by Spanish-language outlets; little journalistic presence on Twitter, where a number of reporters have been providing live updates; and the fact that Pew conducted the survey by phone, which may or may not be at odds with a conflict that has largely played out on social media.

Another factor stands out. According to U.S. Census figures, only 2.7 percent of St. Louis County, which encompasses Ferguson, is Latino. And Latinos only make up 1.2 percent of Ferguson itself. The absence of Latino faces in the protests may have contributed to this apparent apathy.

Independent of the numbers, what happened in Ferguson and the Latino reality in the United States are part of a shared history of discrimination. For decades, both blacks and Latinos have had much in common as targets of government-sanctioned abuse and inequality; Ferguson is only a page off the same book.

American jurisprudence provides an example. In May, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, the historic equal-protection case, turned 60. What most people don’t know is that almost a decade prior to Brown, the courts had to intervene in a case where Latino children were suffering the same kind of discrimination as blacks in public education.

In Mendez v. Westminster, decided in 1946, a federal court in California declared that the segregation of children of Mexican descent “foster[s] antagonisms in the children and suggest[s] inferiority among them where none exists,” and that such  action by the state “manifests a clear purpose to arbitrarily discriminate against the pupils of Mexican ancestry and to deny to them the equal protection of the laws.”

Does that sound familiar?

Mendez was only one link in a long chain of segregation in California and the Southwest, where it wasn’t uncommon to find “Mexican seats” or “Mexican days” in places of public accommodation—the same separate-but-equal treatment experienced by blacks in the South.

But Mendez never made it to the Supreme Court, and thus it went largely unnoticed. It wasn’t until Hernandez v. Texas, decided two weeks prior to Brown, that the high court, for the first time, acknowledged that the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all, not just to blacks and whites. For the first time, Latinos had a legal weapon with a Hispanic name to call their own.

The weapon, it turned out, was of little use. With the passage of time, the Hernandez breakthrough all but vanished.

It is evident in today’s criminalization and stigmatization of a person’s immigration status. In the mass deportations of people without a criminal record. In the rampant use of force by border patrol agents. In the lack of protections for unskilled migrant workers. In the elimination of affirmative action in states such as Michigan and Florida. In laws that hinder the right to vote. In the gross application of stop-and-frisk tactics in New York and Philadelphia. In the high number  of Latinos in federal and state custody. In the dearth of economic opportunities stemming from some or all of the above.

It is for those reasons that Ferguson’s problem is also a Latino problem. The protests of the past few weeks are rooted in a shared legacy of discrimination and discontent.