(CN) - Young undocumented migrants in Arizona deserve an injunction against a law that denies them driver's licenses, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday, finding the state's continued denial will likely harm their career prospects and job opportunities.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced the prohibition in August 2012, on the same day that the federal "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" (DACA) program took effect.
The program defers immigration-related actions against certain young adults under 31 who were brought to the country as children and have lived here continuously, gone to school and not committed any crimes. In an effort to encourage these migrants to work, the program makes them eligible to receive employment authorization documents.
Brewer's executive order directed state agencies to prevent DACA recipients from receiving any "state identification, including a driver's license," and she said later that it was primarily designed to deny driver's licenses to "illegal people," according to the 9th Circuit.
The Arizona Dream Act Coalition and five young migrants who qualify for the program sued Brewer and other state officials in Phoenix, challenging the order under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and federal pre-emption principles.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell had refused
last year to block the law with a preliminary injunction, despite agreeing with the coalition that Brewer's order likely violated the equal protection clause because other noncitizens, specifically those who have "applied for adjustment of status and cancellation of removal, respectively," can use the same employment documents to apply for an Arizona driver's license.
Campbell also found, however, that the plaintiffs did not show a likelihood of "irreparable harm" from Brewer's policy.
In reversing Monday, A unanimous appellate panel said Campbell had used an incorrect and too-stringent legal standard in examining for potential harm.
"Plaintiffs' inability to obtain driver's licenses likely causes them irreparable harm by limiting their professional opportunities," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel in Pasadena, Calif. "Plaintiffs' ability to drive is integral to their ability to work - after all, eighty-seven percent of Arizona workers commute to work by car. It is unsurprising, then, that plaintiffs' inability to obtain driver's licenses has hurt their ability to advance their careers. Plaintiffs' lack of driver's licenses has prevented them from applying for desirable entry-level jobs, and from remaining in good jobs where they faced possible promotion. Likewise, one plaintiff - who owns his own business - has been unable to expand his business to new customers who do not live near his home. Plaintiffs' lack of driver's licenses has,in short, diminished their opportunity to pursue their chosen professions."
In a concurrence, Judge Morgan Christen argued that Arizona's policy also violates federal pre-emption principles as "an impermissible regulation of immigration status."
"Because the Supreme Court has consistently cautioned that the regulation of immigration is an exclusively federal function, and because plaintiffs have persistently and persuasively argued that Arizona's revised policy creates a new classification of alien status, I conclude that plaintiffs are entitled to preliminary injunctive relief under this theory," Christen wrote.
Suggesting that partisanship played a role in the court's ruling, the Republican Brewer blamed President Barack Obama for "the current influx of illegal aliens."
"Lawless decrees by the President demonstrate animus to Congress, states and the Constitution," Brewer said in a statement. "It is outrageous, though not entirely surprising, that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has once again dealt a blow to Arizona's ability to enforce its laws. With today's decision, a three-judge appellate panel, appointed by Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, disregarded judicial precedent and procedure. This continues us down a dangerous path in which the courts and the president - not Congress - make our nation's laws. The ruling is especially disturbing given the current influx of illegal aliens, a crisis President Obama created and escalated. I am analyzing options for appealing the misguided court decision. The American people are tired and disgusted by what is happening through our federal government today, but they can be assured Arizona will continue to fight for the rule of law."
The ACLU of Arizona meanwhile celebrated what it called "a huge victory for the young immigrants who want nothing more than to make meaningful contributions to communities in their home state of Arizona."
"Gov. Brewer chose to play politics with the hopes and dreams of these young people by denying them licenses and we're extremely happy the court saw through this and found there was no rational reason to single them out," the group's director Alessandra Soler said in a statement.