Monday, July 7, 2014
Ninth Circuit Finds DACA Plaintiffs Entitled to Preliminary Injunction to Receive Drivers' Licenses in Arizona
The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim.
The plaintiffs challenged an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States. The Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in an opinion authored by Pregerson held that even under a rational basis standard of equal protection review, there was no legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants’ decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens who were permitted to use their Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States when applying for driver’s licenses.
The major rationale proffered by Arizona for its disparate treatment between classes of noncitizens was that "it is rational to accept (c)(9) and (c)(10) Employment Authorization Documents as proof that the holder’s “presence . . . is authorized under federal law,” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-3153(D), because persons with (c)(9) and (c)(10) documents “[are] on a path to lawful status,” while DACA recipients are not." The court was "unconvinced" that Arizona "defined 'a path to lawful status' in a meaningful wa," reasoning that "noncitizens’ applications for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal are often denied, so the supposed 'path' may lead to a dead end."
But even so, the court - - - in what could be considered a back door preemption argument - - - noted that states, including Arizona, “enjoy no power with respect to the classification of aliens,” citing Plyler v. Doe, "so their attempt to distinguish between these noncitizens on the basis of an immigration classification that has no basis in federal law is not likely to withstand equal protection scrutiny."
The court likewise rejected the other four rationales raised by Arizona:
- that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might expose the Arizona Department of Transportation to legal liability “for issuing driver’s licenses to 80,000 unauthorized immigrants;”
- that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might allow DACA recipients to access state and federal benefits to which they are not entitled;
- that the DACA program might be canceled, requiring Arizona to revoke DACA recipients’ driver’s licenses;
- that DACA recipients may have their authorized presence revoked at any time, and thereafter may be quickly removed from the United States, leaving those they may have injured in automobile accidents with no financial recourse.
The district judge had similarly found these rationales were not persuasive, but had denied the preliminary injunction for failure to show sufficient irreparable harm. The Ninth Circuit found there was such harm, faulting the district judge for seeking to "evaluate the severity of the harm to Plaintiffs, rather than simply determining whether the harm to Plaintiffs was irreparable."
The panel split on the viability of the plaintiffs' preemption claim, with Judge Christen concurring separately to contended that plaintiffs' also had a viable preemption claim.
This is an important case for state benefits including licenses that are being denied to DACA receipients, including licenses to practice law.