Filed: August 15, 2012

The ACLU, in partnership with other civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit challenging an Executive Order issued by Governor Brewer on August 15, 2012 directing the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Motor Vehicles Department to deny driver’s licenses to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Under that federal program, immigrant youth who meet certain criteria are allowed to stay and work in the country. An estimated 80,000 youth in Arizona are eligible for the program. The ACLU filed a class action complaint on November 29, 2012, alleging that the Governor’s order is unconstitutional in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by discriminating against certain non-citizens and the Supremacy Clause by interfering with federal authority on immigration matters.

On May 16, 2013, the district court denied plaintiffs’ request for preliminary relief but found that they were “likely to succeed” on their equal protection claim since Arizona continued to grant driver’s licenses to other “deferred action” groups. The court dismissed plaintiffs’ preemption claim based on the fact that Arizona was infringing on federal prerogatives by determining for itself that the DACA recipients were not “authorized” to be in this country. Following the court’s order, and in an effort to get out from under the lawsuit, in September 2013, Governor Brewer expanded the driver’s license ban to include all individuals granted deferred action. The failure of the district court to grant a preliminary injunction and the dismissal of the supremacy clause claim were appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In July 2014, a unanimous panel reversed the trial judge and ordered that the preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs should be granted.

Efforts by the Governor and the state of Arizona to reverse the block and keep the ban in place were rejected by the Supreme Court, and in January 2015 a federal court permanently blocked Arizona’s denial of licenses to DREAMers. On April 5, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that permanently blocks Arizona from denying driver’s licenses to immigrants who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  


Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

National Immigration Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund


United States District Court



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