Judge: Immigrant Class Can’t Be Banned From Arizona Roads

(CN) – A federal judge declared Thursday that Arizona wrongly denied driver’s licenses to noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. by the federal government.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled the state’s policy denying licenses under certain Employment Authorization Document (EAD) codes impermissible and foreclosed by the Ninth Circuit’s Dream Act decision which also found Arizona’s denial of licenses for immigrants was usurped by federal law.

From September 2013 to February 2017, plaintiff Marco Gonzalez was the only noncitizen in Arizona granted a driver’s license under a family unity EAD. That was only after his legal team petitioned the Department of Transportation and less than a year later, Gonzalez’s application for renewal was denied.

On the books, Arizona law only asks for proof that noncitizens are authorized by federal law to be in the U.S., and the EAD satisfies that requirement. Alongside four other noncitizens, Gonzalez sued the Arizona Department of Transportation and DMV in September 2016.

Arizona’s varying policies on different employment classes go back to an executive order issued by former Gov. Janice Brewer in 2012, requiring the state’s 20,000 DACA recipients to present additional proof of legal status before obtaining a driver’s license. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was intended to grant temporary relief to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors.

In 2016, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals barred Arizona from distinguishing “between noncitizens based on its own definition of ‘authorized presence,’ one that neither mirrors nor borrows from the federal immigration classification scheme.”

“In other words, the problem with Defendants’ classification scheme is not simply that it refers to immigration classifications, but that it creates classifications with no basis in the federal scheme,” Campbell summarized in his opinion, noting that over the last six years the Arizona Department of Transportation consistently changed its policies just enough “to bolster its defense in court.”

The family unity employment code issued to the plaintiffs named in this case protects “immediate family members of lawful permanent residents … killed by terrorism … [or] killed in combat and granted posthumous citizenship.”

The plaintiffs also wanted to include noncitizens granted employment under an “extended voluntary departure” code but yesterday’s ruling was limited to the classification held by the lawsuit’s named plaintiffs.

The court also found that because the EAD policies were created by his predecessor, Gov. Doug Ducey could not be held responsible for its various manifestations.

“Defendants, their officials, agents, employees, assigns, and all persons acting in concert or participating with them are permanently enjoined from implementing or enforcing a policy or practice of denying deferred action recipients with (c)(14)-coded EADs the ability to present their EADs alone to establish authorized presence for purposes of qualifying for Arizona driver’s licenses,” Campbell wrote, granting Gonzales a permanent injunction.
Plaintiffs in this case were represented by the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles and Daniel Ortega Jr. in Phoenix. Ortega did not immediately respond to inquiries for comment.

The Arizona defendants were represented by Doug Northup of Fennemore Craig. Gov. Ducey’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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