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Ninth Circuit Blocks Enforcement of Arizona's Immigrant License Law

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on July 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If we had to analogize Arizona to a child, we'd say it was suffering from "middle child syndrome." What else could explain the policies and legislation that comes out of that state? Perhaps Arizona just wants more attention from her parents the Federal Government. (Sidebar: Jan Brewer is the second child -- just saying).

The challenged Arizona law du jour is Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann § 28-3153(D), which prohibits the issuance of licenses to young immigrants (under Gov. Brewer's executive order and interpretation). Read on to see why another Arizona policy didn't make the cut.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

In 2012, by Executive Order, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would effectively let young illegal immigrants to live and work in the United States. To be eligible, a person must have come to the U.S. under the age of 16, is currently under the age of 30, lived in the U.S. for at least the past five years, must not have committed a major crime, and either have a high school degree, its equivalent, or served in the U.S. military.

Arizona's Response

The same day President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, not to be outdone, Gov. Jan Brewer announced her own executive order: "She directed state agencies to prevent illegal immigrants granted work authorization through the federal program from becoming eligible for any state identification, including a driver's license," reports The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added).

Arizona Driver's License Law Litigation

The Arizona Dream Act Coalition, and a group of individuals, challenged Arizona's law as preempted, and violating the Equal Protection Clause. The district court didn't buy the preemption argument, but found that the Arizona policy violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Equal Protection argument went something like this: "the state lets some immigrants with work permits get driver's licenses but won't let immigrants protected under Obama's program have the same benefit," according to The Associated Press. Nonetheless, the district court did not grant the plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction because it did not find likelihood of irreparable harm.

On Monday, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, and remanded with instructions for the court to enter a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the Arizona driver's license policy. The court stated: "Defendants' policy appears intended to express animus toward DACA recipients themselves, in part because of the federal government's policy toward them. Such animus, however, is not a legitimate state interest."

No word yet on whether Gov. Brewer will seek rehearing en banc, or whether she will appeal directly to the Supreme Court, but she will no doubt take action. She stated, "This continues us down a dangerous path in which the courts and the President -- not Congress -- make our nation's laws." She added that she was "analyzing options for appealing the misguided court decision. The American people are tired and disgusted by what is happening through our federal government today, but they can be assured Arizona will continue to fight for the rule of law."

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