AZ license ban leads to more than a few questions

Posted by Matthew Green | Jun 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

Although President Obama made it possible for certain undocumented immigrants to qualify for his deferred-action program, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed an executive order that prohibits these DREAMers from getting driver's licenses in the state.

Meanwhile, The Arizona Republic has reported that there are undocumented immigrants who are in the midst of deportation proceedings who have been able to obtain driver's licenses in the state since that executive order was signed almost two years ago. It is estimated that this number could be in the thousands.

This means that you are still able to obtain a driver's license, even if the government is actively trying to deport you. However, if you have received permission to be in the U.S. because of the president's program, you are barred from getting a license in Arizona.

That is exactly what happened to Alan Salinas, as highlighted in a story on azcentral.com. Salinas got his Arizona driver's license in 2010. During this time, the government was working on deporting him because he was in the U.S. without the proper documentation. This situation did not change for Salinas until April 2014 when he was approved for the deferred-action program. Around the same time, Salinas' short-term licensed expired and was refused when he attempted to renew it.

Salinas' situation is just one reason Brewer's executive order has faced some legal challenges. In an attempt to address this issue, Brewer simply says that undocumented immigrants do not have legal authority to be in the U.S., with or without being a part of Obama's program, and therefore do not have the ability to get a driver's license under Arizona law.

Specifically, the law in Arizona says that individuals are required to show that they are lawfully present in the U.S. in order to get a driver's license. So, doesn't this mean that DREAMers are eligible to obtain a driver's license? Not according to Brewer. The governor argues that being given deferred action is not the same as having legal authority. She believes this to be true because she thinks that Obama's deferred-action program “improperly bypassed Congress.”

However, there are a handful of civil-rights groups that are challenging Brewer's take on the matter. These groups are taking their fight to federal court and allege that “undocumented immigrants who receive deferred-action work permits have just as much legal authority to be in the U.S. as other undocumented immigrants who are granted work permits to support themselves while they contest their deportations.” In addition, these groups claim that it is in violation of the Constitution's equal protection clause to deny driver's licenses to one group while permitting another.

Currently, there is only one other state that has instituted a similar policy. Nebraska denies driver's license to undocumented immigrants who have been approved for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). However, the policy is being challenged in court.

What are your thoughts on Governor Brewer's executive order? Is she within her authority to pass such a policy? Do you think it will hold up in a federal court?

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Attorney. 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 with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...

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