Newark, NJ- On July 7, 2014, a federal appellate court ruled that the state of Arizona cannot deny driver’s licenses to young immigrants awarded work permits and given deportation relief under an Obama Administration policy stating the state’s policy violated their equal protection rights and caused them undue harm. The decision is a victory for immigrants in New Jersey and the U.S. as a whole.
In August of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security enacted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy by which federal authorities would exercise prosecutorial discretion and offer relief from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants. Under DACA, eligible applicants were allowed to apply for temporary work visas and therefore were extended some of the same privileges granted to other categories of undocumented immigrants who hold work permits, including the right to drive.
Those applying for DACA must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16, were under the age of 31 as of June 2012 when the policy was announced, be currently enrolled in school or have already graduated from high school or served in the military. Deportation relief is only available to undocumented youth who were already present in the states when the policy was enacted, and have not been convicted of more than three misdemeanors, one serious misdemeanor or a felony.
In response to the Obama Administration’s policy, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order in August of 2012 directing the state’s Department of Transportation to deny driver’s licenses to immigrants granted work authorization under DACA. Gov. Brewer later said her executive order assured no “illegal immigrants” would be granted driver’s licenses or state IDs, but the policy was directly aimed at DACA recipients and did not apply to other groups of undocumented immigrants granted deferred deportation such as victims of domestic violence.
As defendants in Arizona Dream Act Coalition vs. Jan Brewer, attorneys arguing for the state asserted it had the right to enforce immigration laws within its borders and that DACA recipients were not in the state lawfully.
Five recipients of DACA along with the American Civil Liberties Union filed an injunction to have the policy blocked. Initially, a district court refused to grant the injunction, but the defendants appealed and ultimately prevailed.
In a unanimous decision, a panel of three judges for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s policy violated DACA recipients’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Justices also found that the plaintiffs showed the policy denied them equal protection under the state’s immigration laws by creating a new class of undocumented immigrants and expressed “animus toward DACA recipients,” according to the court’s opinion.
Additionally, the appellate court found those eligible for deportation relief would suffer “irreparable harm” as a consequence of the state’s policy, noting the majority of Arizona residents must drive because the state’s public transportation system was not adequate enough for commuting to and from work. The court stated DACA recipients suffered irreparable harm because of Gov. Brewer’s executive order.
Immigration advocates were pleased with the appellate court’s decision, but Gov. Brewer said she would look into ways she could appeal the decision.
If the injunction is allowed to stand, the court’s decision will benefit immigrants in New Jersey because it reaffirms the federal government’s authority to enact and enforce immigration laws. And also signals that states cannot discriminately enforce immigration policies. The ruling means that other states would be less likely to deny driver’s licenses to immigrants eligible for DACA and other deferred action policies.
In June of this year, the Obama administration renewed DACA for an additional two years. Even though tens of thousands of young immigrants in New Jersey are eligible for deferred deportation, many do not apply. They are either daunted the by the application process or don’t even know where to begin.
If you need assistance applying for DACA you can contact my Newark office to discuss your case. Because immigration is a main focus of my New Jersey law practice, I am capable of assisting immigrants with a range of immigration issues from applying for a visa to fighting deportation.