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9th Circuit: Arizona Dreamers Can Get Driver's Licenses

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a federal policy that temporarily protects undocumented immigrants brought into the country unlawfully by their parents from deportation. Along with the DREAM ACT, it confers some legal standing to undocumented immigrants, like the ability to work, go to school, or get a driver's license.

The state of Arizona had been pushing back hard against the third part, with then-Governor Jan Brewer signing an executive order in 2012 denying licenses for young, undocumented immigrants. But the Ninth Circuit has overturned that ban and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing it.

"Irreparable Harm"

As DACA and the Dream Act are federal edicts, Arizona, via Attorney General Mark Brnovich, argued that states should have the authority to decide which residents get a driver's license. But federal courts have disagreed, with a U.S. District Court issuing a preliminary, and then permanent, injunction against the state denying DACA recipients state-issued driver's licenses.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed that injunction:

"Plaintiffs' inability to obtain drivers' licenses hinders them in pursuing new jobs, attending work, advancing their careers, and developing business opportunities. 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 Right to Drive

As Nephtali Moreno, a member of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said in a statement after 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. As a DACA recipient, having a license has allowed me to better contribute to my Arizona community."

A spokesperson of current Arizona Governor Doug Ducey told Courthouse News the governor's office is "reviewing the ruling" and the Attorney General Brnovich hasn't said whether his office will appeal the ruling.

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