(CN) – Arizona cannot deny drivers’ licenses to some 26,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, the Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday.
The federal appeals court in Pasadena affirmed a permanent injunction against the state’s four-year effort to block so called “Dreamers” – young immigrants who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status – from receiving drivers’ licenses.
By creating its own class of immigrants, Arizona illegally usurped an “exclusive federal authority,” a unanimous three-judge panel ruled.
In a state where commutes are often long, and reliable public transit is spotty at best, the panel also found that the young immigrants would be irreparably harmed if denied drivers’ licenses.
“Plaintiffs’ inability to obtain drivers’ licenses hinders them in pursuing new jobs, attending work, advancing their careers, and developing business opportunities,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel. “They thus suffer financial harm and significant opportunity costs. And as we have previously found, the irreparable nature of this injury is exacerbated by plaintiffs’ young age and fragile socioeconomic status. Setbacks early in their careers can have significant impacts on Plaintiffs’ future professions. This loss of opportunity to pursue one’s chosen profession constitutes irreparable harm.”
The plaintiffs in the long-running case are five recipients of deferred action under DACA, which President Barack Obama enacted via executive order in 2012.
DACA defers removal for certain noncitizens who were under the age of 16 when they came to the country, and have lived here since 2007.
Program recipients must be in school or have graduated or served in the military, and must not commit any crimes.
Shortly after President Obama created the program, then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer barred the Department of Transportation from accepting Dreamers’ Employment Authorization Documents as proof that they were in the state legally, effectively denying them the opportunity to obtain a drivers’ license.
With the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to intervene, U.S. District Judge David Campbell issued a permanent injunction against Brewer’s policy last year, finding that DACA recipients were no different from other noncitizens who are eligible for drivers’ licenses.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed today, nine months after it heard oral arguments .
Pregerson agreed with Judge Campbell that “Arizona’s disparate treatment of DACA recipients may well violate the Equal Protection Clause,” but said the court’s decision rested on the state’s “independent definition of ‘authorized presence'” – an authority denied to the states under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“Arizona has no cognizable interest in making the distinction it has for drivers’ licenses purposes,” Pregerson wrote. “The federal government, not the states, holds exclusive authority concerning direct matters of immigration law.”
Nephtali Moreno, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, applauded the ruling.
“Everyone who knows how to drive and is otherwise eligible should have the right to drive, regardless of the person’s immigration status,” Moreno said in a statement. “As a DACA recipient, having a license has allowed me to better contribute to my Arizona community.”
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, told Courthouse News on Wednesday that the governor’s office was “reviewing the ruling.”
The centerpiece of Obama’s immigration reform plan, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, faces Supreme Court review later this month.
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