Jesus Castro, a 26-year-old Dreamer from Phoenix, knew that a federal work permit qualifies individuals in Arizona for a driver’s license.
That’s why he was surprised when he was denied an Arizona driver’s licenses last October even after he presented the work permit granted to him by the federal government under the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“I’m being treated unfairly, and that should not be acceptable,” he told VOXXI.
Ban on Arizona driver’s licenses for DACA recipients is unconstitutional
Castro is one of the five plaintiffs in a lawsuit that claims Gov. Jan Brewer’s executive order banning DACA recipients from getting driver’s licenses in Arizona is unconstitutional. The other plaintiffs include several Dreamers, making it the first time in Arizona’s history that a group of undocumented immigrants files a lawsuit against the state.
On Friday, the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked U.S. District Judge David Campbell in federal court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would allow DACA recipients to get driver’s licenses while the suit is litigated in court.
Brewer issued the executive order last August on the same day President Barack Obama announced the deferred action program for undocumented youth, making her one of the few governors across the country to do so. She argued that because the program didn’t grant undocumented youth a lawful status, the state wasn’t required to give them any public benefits, including driver’s licenses.
But the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued Friday that allowing one group of immigrants with federal work permits to get driver’s licenses while denying the same state benefit to DACA recipients who also have federal work permits is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Karen Tumlin, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, another group representing the plaintiffs, argued in court that “the actual reason” why Brewer issued the executive order was to “single out DACA recipients.”
The attorneys also argued that Brewer’s executive order violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That’s because they said Brewer doesn’t consider DACA recipients to have an authorized presence in the U.S. even after the Department of Homeland Security clarified in January that these young immigrants have an authorized presence.
“What Arizona is doing is classifying DACA recipients as not being authorized to be in the country, which is inconsistent with federal law,” argued American Civil Liberties Union’s Jennifer Chang Newell, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The ACLU is one of the civil rights groups representing the plaintiffs.
“We can’t have a system in which every state can decide for itself whether a person is authorized to be in the United States,” she added. “That’s the job of the federal government.”
Chang Newell also referred the court to the decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued in the Arizona v. United States case last year. In that case, the justices decided that the federal government, not the states, has the authority to regulate immigration laws and decide who is authorized to be in the country.
Gov. Brewer’s attorney defends ban of driver’s license for DACA recipients
But Brewer’s lawyer, Douglas Northup, claimed that the governor’s executive order isn’t preempted by federal law nor is it unconstitutional, because the deferred action program for undocumented youth isn’t a federal law.
He also argued that Arizona isn’t violating its own policy by denying driver’s licenses to DACA recipients, because the state has the authority to decide who is allowed to receive state benefits.
Northup added that DACA recipients “have no hope of lawful status” and that Arizona driver’s licenses are usually given to immigrants who are on a path to a legal status.
Campbell questioned that claim and noted that many immigrants who’ve obtained other instances of deferred action have been able to get driver’s licenses in Arizona. In fact, The Arizona Republic reported last November that in the last eight years, the state has issued nearly 40,000 driver’s licenses and state ID cards to non-citizens who had federal work permits. Some of these were issued to undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings, contradicting Northup’s claim that driver’s licenses are only given to those who have “hope of a lawful status.”