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AZ Appeals Court Prohibits Denial of Licenses to Immigrants

Posted by Matthew Green | Jul 08, 2014 | 0 Comments

On July 7th, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Governor Jan Brewer's executive order that would deny “driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who have work permits through President Barack Obama's deferred-action program” was unlawful. This story was reported by

This finding by the 9th Circuit is great news for pro-immigration advocates who felt that those impacted by this executive order were being treated unfairly by the state. Not only did the 9th Circuit agree with the advocates, but added that the “plaintiffs had also shown a likelihood that the immigrants would be harmed by the state's refusal to grant the young immigrants driver's licenses.” A spokesperson from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Timothy Tait, said that the ruling is now under review.

This finding by the 9th Circuit is considered to be “significant,” according to Dan Pochoda, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona. The ACLU, along with a handful of other civil-rights groups, brought the lawsuit against the state. “It's a very important win for the plaintiffs, for the DREAMers - many DREAMers - who clearly have been very much harmed by this policy, this vindictive policy by the governor,” Pochoda commented to The Arizona Republic.

During the legal proceedings, the state had to spend thousands of dollars to defend this policy. “This was a legal battle that should not have been taken on - it was bad policy, and very likely illegal,” Pochoda said. The executive order came after President Obama's deferred-action program in June 2012. The program allowed for certain young immigrants to avoid a threat of deportation. Specifically, undocumented immigrants, aged 30 and younger who were brought to the U.S. as minors could avoid deportation for two years and “also receive federal work permits.”

The Obama administration's program went into effect on August 15, 2012. On that same day, Governor Brewer issued an executive order that required “state agencies to deny driver's licenses and other public benefits to immigrants who obtained authorization under the program.”

By May of 2013, U.S. District Judge David Campbell had turned down the argument that the governor was unconstitutional because he held that it was “trumped by federal law.” However, Judge Campbell also said that those arguing against this executive order may “succeed in arguing that the state allowed some immigrants with work permits to get driver's licenses, while denying the same benefit to immigrants protected under Obama's program.”

For civil rights advocates, one strong argument against the executive order is that the Department of Homeland Security has “clarified that young undocumented immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. through Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy ‘clearly' are legally authorized to be in the country and should be treated no different than undocumented immigrants who received deferred action from deportation for other reasons.

Currently, only one other state denies immigrants driver's licenses in certain situations and that state is Nebraska. What do you think about this recent decision?

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly 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 with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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