Kids of Immigrants Challenge Ohio Licensing Rules

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Ohio is facing a federal class action claiming it discriminates against Dreamers and other minors by denying them driver’s licenses and identification cards because their parents are not legal U.S. citizens.

The lawsuit – filed Tuesday in Columbus federal court by lead attorney Emily Brown with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality – claims that Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles “has enacted a discriminatory policy that requires a parent or guardian to prove lawful immigration status in order to co-sign for the minor child if the parent was born outside the United States.”

If the parent cannot prove they are in the country legally, the BMV prohibits other adults from co-signing “unless he or she obtains custody or legal guardianship of the minor applicant.”

The denial or delay of a driver’s license or state ID hinders the ability of 16 and 17-year-old children of immigrants “to travel to their places of school and employment, transport other family members, provide identification for purposes of opening a bank account or obtaining employment, and otherwise participate fully in civic life,” according to the 27-page complaint.

Ohio and other states have agreed to comply with the federal REAL ID Act, which establishes nine categories of legal status. All applicants must show proof of legal status. REAL ID-compliant licenses allow people to enter federal facilities and board domestic flights, among other things.

One of the nine categories includes “aliens with approved deferred action status.” Minors protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program fall into this category. They are commonly referred to as Dreamers and are allowed to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for a specific, renewable time period.

Unmarried noncitizens under the age of 21 can also be granted special immigrant juvenile status if a juvenile court declares it’s not in their best interest to reunify with their parents, either in the United State or in their country of origin.

Both of these instances qualify minors for REAL ID-compliant licenses under federal law, according to the lawsuit.

But although Ohio grants licenses to DACA recipients who are not minors, those under the age of 18 still need a co-signer with a legal status.

“This policy effectively denies or delays the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards to otherwise-eligible individuals,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit notes that public transportation is unavailable or unreliable in many parts of Ohio and the U.S.

“Lack of access to a driver’s license or state identification card can adversely affect the ability of an immigrant or the child of an immigrant to gain employment and support herself or her family,” it says.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Erlin Lorena Rodriguez Enamorado, individually and as next friend to J.G.R., and Maria Monjaraz, individually and as next friend of A.M.

The lawsuit asks for class action status, a judgment declaring Ohio’s policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and injunctive relief from the BMV’s requirements.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Brown, said in a statement, “We are hopeful that the BMV will end these unconstitutional and discriminatory policies and ensure that all Ohio residents who are eligible for driver’s licenses can obtain them.”

The BMV did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit refused to review a panel decision that found Arizona cannot deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

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