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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Legal Immigrants Sue Arizona for Licenses

PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona, forced to grant driver's licenses to young immigrants known as "dreamers" after losing a legal battle, faces another class action, for turning away other applicants who also are protected from deportation.

Still being denied driver's licenses are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking who are exempt from deportation through deferred action, a special status the federal government grants undocumented immigrants for humanitarian reasons.

Recipients are eligible to work and obtain driving privileges that Arizona is illegally withholding, five named plaintiffs claim in a federal class-action filed Monday in Phoenix Federal Court.

"There are thousands of people in Arizona who are being denied driver's licenses unjustly," said one of their attorneys, Victor Viramontes, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles.

"They are people who have been granted legal authority to live and work in the United States, and in Arizona and they're being unfairly discriminated against."

Gov. Doug Ducey's office is reviewing the lawsuit, spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said.

Yuvianel Osoria et al. claim state policy of denying driver's licenses and state identification cards is unconstitutional. Attached as an exhibit is a 2012 executive order doing so, signed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer.

Arizona is the only state that denies driver's licenses to these qualifying immigrants, Viramontes said.

One plaintiff is a seriously ill woman who cannot drive herself to medical appointments; one has a daughter with spina bifida whom she cannot drive to appointments; all mention missed job opportunities and other hardships.

"They should be giving licenses to everyone who is lawfully present in the United States," Viramontes said of Arizona. "That's what the law says and that's what they should do."

Last year, immigrant advocates warned Ducey they would sue if Arizona's Motor Vehicle Division continued to turn away deferred-action recipients under the ban implemented by Brewer.

Brewer issued her executive order after President Obama announced in 2012 that undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors would receive temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

At the time, Brewer said driver's licenses might be used to obtain public benefits illegally. She also said the decision to grant driver's licenses should fall to states, not the federal government.

Dreamers filed a lawsuit pointing out that the policy was illegal because the state already granted driver's licenses to immigrants with federal work permits. In response, Brewer expanded the ban to include the latter group.

In December 2014, a federal judge sided with Arizona's more than 20,000 DACA recipients and barred the state from denying driver's licenses.

Arizona spent more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money defending Brewer's executive order.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the state policy violates Article VI of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause; the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment; 42 USC, and an injunction against the policy.

Co-counsel includes the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles and Daniel Ortega Jr. in Phoenix.

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