Suit Challenges Arizona Drivers' License Ban For Young Immigrants
November 30, 2012

Photo by Jude Joffe-Block
Members of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and the coalition of civil rights groups that are bringing the suit held a press conference on Thursday.

PHOENIX -- A class action lawsuit filed Thursday challenges an Arizona executive order that bars young immigrants who qualify for deferred action from obtaining drivers' licenses. The plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in federal court in Phoenix, say Arizona's policy amounts to discrimination.

The plaintiffs in the case include the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and five named individuals, including 19-year-old Alejandra Lopez.

Lopez, who grew up in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, recently qualified for the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That means she is temporarily spared from deportation, and has been able to obtain a Social Security Number and a two-year federal work permit.

She had hoped to get a driver's license in order to drive to work, once she found a job. She first tried to get a state ID card at the Motor Vehicle Division.

In the past, the Arizona MVD has accepted work permits as one of the documents needed to prove legal presence in order to get a driver's license or state ID.

But the agent turned Lopez down.

"I staid 'I have this.' and I took out my work permit," Lopez said. "Then she said, 'Oh OK, we are not accepting this to get Arizona IDs.'"

That's because back in August, Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order to deny driver's licenses to deferred action grantees. As a result, the MVD updated its policy; it still accepts work permits, but it won't accept the work permits given to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival grantees.

The class action suit challenges that policy on the grounds that it violates the plaintiffs right to equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and preempts federal immigration law.

"Not only is this wrong and mean-spirited," said Alessandra Soler of the ACLU of Arizona. "It is completely out of line with constitutional guarantees that prevent government from treating people differently based on race, ethnicity, or in this case, immigration status."

According to reporting by the Arizona Republic, in the past eight years, the MVD has issued almost 40,000 driver's licenses or state IDs to immigrants who presented work permits.

The Governor's office has said those cases are different, because other immigrants were granted permission to work legally under rules approved by Congress, while the latest deferred action program was through the executive branch.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, however, assert that Brewer's executive order is just another example of a longstanding conflict with the federal government.

"Governor Brewer just wants to put up roadblocks," said Jennifer Chang Newell, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project. "At a time when we should all be talking about how to reform our immigration system to allow these young immigrants to get on a path to citizenship, to contribute to our economies and achieve the American dream."

So far several states, including Nevada and California, are allowing licenses for young immigrants who receive work permits through the Obama administration program.

Two states, Michigan and Nebraska, have followed Arizona's lead by announcing a ban.