WASHINGTON -- Young undocumented immigrants who received deportation relief from the Obama administration should soon be able to get driver licenses in Arizona, after the Supreme Court told the state Wednesday it could no longer block so-called Dreamers from obtaining them.
Arizona had asked the Supreme Court to block a preliminary injunction by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that forced the state to issue licenses to young undocumented immigrants while the issue played out in a lower federal court. A decision from the liberal-leaning appeals court back in July found that the plaintiffs challenging the law were "likely to succeed on the merits of their equal protection claim," and forced Arizona to issue licenses to some undocumented young people despite an executive order from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R).
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the Supreme Court's decision, and would have stayed the preliminary injunction, thus allowing Arizona to continue to deny licenses to those who qualified under the Obama administration's program for young undocumented immigrants. The decision affects only the injunction and not the underlying case, which is still proceeding through the lower court.
The 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, allows young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. prior to the age of 16 to stay and work legally. DACA recipients are allowed to get driver's licenses in nearly every state, with the exception of Nebraska and Arizona. The latter has a large undocumented immigrant population, and has implemented a number of harsh anti-unauthorized immigration laws. More than 23,000 Dreamers in the state have qualified for DACA.
The issue has become all the more significant since President Barack Obama announced executive actions last month that will expand DACA and create a new deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. When that policy goes into effect, the number of people granted reprieve in Arizona is likely to grow significantly.
Brewer's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the National Immigration Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of Dreamers in the state. Karen Tumlin, managing attorney with the NILC, applauded the court's decision in a statement.
"Justice, in this case, took more than two years to finally be delivered, but we're no less pleased with the outcome," she said. “Soon, immigrant youth will be able to contribute more fully to their communities and economy, and they'll finally have the identification proving on paper what they already know: that they are Arizonans."
Erika Andiola, an undocumented activist with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, told HuffPost that Dreamers will be celebrating the decision later in the day. She said that allowing DACA recipients to get driver licenses would be "a huge help," because many of them lack transportation alternatives.
"If you're an Arizonan, your life is really tough without a car," she said. "Sometimes we have to drive, and the problem is for a lot of us, we've gotten tickets. ... The other part is you can't really feel like you're documented. You have DACA, but there are so many things you can't do."