Will Arizona Immigrants Get a License to Drive?

Posted by Matthew Green | Dec 05, 2014 | 0 Comments

While the national focus has been on President Barack Obama's recent executive action on immigration reform, local Arizona immigration policy has lost another challenge.  A federal appeals court denied Governor Jan Brewer's request to reconsider a ruling which blocked the state's denial of driver's licenses to those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.  With the recently announced expansion of those who will fall within DACA criteria, this latest ruling could result in driver's licenses for millions of immigrants across the country.

Chief spokesman for the governors office, Andrew Wilder, called the decision a procedural setback, and would not impact the administrations legal strategy.  “We're reviewing all our options of possibly taking the matter to the Supreme Court,” said Wilder.  He indicated there was a good chance the state will try and take the matter to the high court, but no decision has yet been made.

Arizona has more than 20,000 immigrants who have been granted deferred status under DACA.  The same day that DACA took effect, Gov. Brewer issued an executive order to make the childhood arrivals ineligible for driver's licenses.  That law was challenged, and a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit blocked the states denial of driver's licenses.  Gov. Brewer requested the entire 9th Circuit to hear the matter, which has now been denied.

After the president's immigration changes, the number of immigrants eligible for deferred action may increase to as many as 130,000 people here in Arizona.  The Brewer policy to deny licenses to DACA recipients would be equally unconstitutional to the larger number of deferred action immigrants, unless the courts reverse course.

According to an attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, there is no reason for the District Court Judge David Campbell to delay issuing an order to direct the Arizona Department of Transportation to issue driver's licenses to qualified DACA immigrants.  Campbell, however, may wait until it is determined whether the state will seek Supreme Court review.

Even if the issue continues until next year, the incoming governor is not likely to change the state's position on immigrant driver's licenses.  Recent Governor-elect Doug Ducey has indicated he will continue with Brewer's position to deny driver's licenses to immigrants.  However, a Ducey spokesman said “the governor-elect will adhere to the law once a final rendering has been reached.”

Immigrant activists and DREAMers have been given a reason to celebrate after this latest ruling, and many hope to be able to get a driver's license soon.  Dulce Matuz, one of the five plaintiffs in the case, sees Brewer's position as misdirected.  “Governor Brewer has wasted countless taxpayer dollars defending a misguided and harmful policy that has been rejected time and time again by the courts,” said Matuz.

The complaint argues that denying driver's licenses to DACA recipients in Arizona will frustrate their ability to find employment and become self-sufficient. As argued in the complaint filed against the policy, Arizona is somewhat of an outlier in denying driver's licenses to DACA immigrants. Thirteen states offer some form of driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, including all the states bordering Arizona: California, Utah, New Mexico and Nevada.

About the Author

Matthew Green

The Law Offices of Matthew H. Green focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged...

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