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Texas Ducks Suit Over Immigrant Driving Rules

AUSTIN (CN) - Legal temporary immigrants who are irked over visa requirements for the issuance of drivers' licenses in Texas cannot sue the state, an appeals court ruled.

Three individual Hispanic plaintiffs and employer Green Meadows Landscaping Inc. had brought the suit over a Texas Department of Public Safety rule that bars immigrants from obtaining drivers' licenses without proof of permission from federal immigration officials to stay in the country for at least one year.

The plaintiffs were authorized workers under the federal H-2B work visa program, but were unable to get licenses because the visas are only valid for ten months at a time.

Green Meadows argued the policy prevented H-2B workers from working as foremen, because the job requires them to drive work crews from one job site to another. The plaintiffs also disagreed with an internal memo that stated licenses issued to certain noncitizens would be vertically oriented instead of horizontally oriented and would bear the phrase "temporary visitor," as well as showing the licensee's status date.

A Travis County judge later issued an injunction, leading the state to successfully appeal on the basis of jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs later refiled their complaint for declaratory relief with four additional individual Hispanic plaintiffs. Again, the trial court concluded it had jurisdiction over the claims and ruled in the plaintiffs' favor.

On Thursday, an appellate panel again reversed for the state.

The trial court did not have jurisdiction over the plaintiff's declaratory claims because the sought-after relief is "redundant" to their earlier unsuccessful claims under the Administrative Claims Act, according to the ruling.

Despite sovereign immunity, the Texas Supreme Court has allowed declaratory suits against the state if the suits allege the official acted completely outside of his jurisdiction and "may not simply allege than an official failed to comply fully 'with all of the intricacies' of a governed regulatory framework," Justice David Puryear wrote for the court.

Current laws and laws at the time of the suit's filing specify that license applicants "must apply in a manner prescribed by the department," and that an applicant's proof of identity must be "satisfactory to the department," according to the ruling.

"In light of these broad delegations of power by the legislature, we cannot agree that the department's decision to require certain non-citizen applicants to file additional immigration documentation as proof of identity when seeking driver's licenses constituted actions take completely outside the department's authority," Puryear wrote. "Accordingly, we must conclude that the applicants' allegations were insufficient to invoke the ultra-vires exception."

In a previous appeal, the appeals court concluded the lower court did not have jurisdiction to consider the plaintiffs' challenge of the memo regarding vertically oriented licenses under the Administrative Procedure Act. It said the plaintiffs failed to show that receiving a license that is standard in appearance is a "recognizable legally protected interest."

The panel concluded the agency's internal policy on the matter "does not affect the interest of the public such that it cannot be altered without public input, nor does it have any legal affect on private persons."

"Stated differently, we related that the plaintiffs did not identify 'any public interest in ensuring that all qualified applicants receive a horizontally oriented driver's license or a driver's license free from any 'Temporary Visitor' designation' or identify 'any legal effect on private persons as a result of the Department's policy," Puryear wrote.


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