The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned away an appeal by the state of Arizona, which had sought to end its participation in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. When the state attempted to deny program beneficiaries the driver’s licenses they were entitled under DACA, the 9th Circuit struck Arizona’s policy down. The Supreme Court left that ruling in place, requiring Arizona to issue the licenses.
The state’s attorney general was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s move, saying the high court had sidestepped the critical issue of whether former president Obama had the power to create the program, which he did in 2012 when it became clear that Congress was unwilling or unable to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“Our case has always been about more than just driver’s licenses,” said the attorney general in a statement. “It’s about the separation of powers and whether the president, any president, can unilaterally act and bypass Congress to create new laws.”
The ACLU had challenged Arizona’s denial of driver’s licenses to a group of DACA beneficiaries. The civil rights group argued that Arizona, the only state to attempt to deny the licenses promised by the program, had infringed on the federal government’s authority to make immigration policy.
Under Arizona law, non-citizens can only obtain driver’s licenses by proving they are authorized to be in the U.S. by showing a federal work permit or other valid immigration documents. Despite the requirements of the DACA program, Arizona decided that DACA permits would not be acceptable.
The 9th Circuit held that states do not have the power to determine which immigration documents are valid in the face of what the federal government says. States cannot adopt their own definitions of authorized immigrants. Federal powers trump state powers, and states generally cannot have opposing or more restrictive policies than the federal government.
Arizona, however, had argued that DACA itself was not a valid program because it was enacted through a Department of Homeland Security policy memo rather than through an act of Congress or a formal agency rulemaking process.
In February, the Supreme Court left in place two appellate court rulings that DACA must be kept in place despite President Trump’s September order to end the program on March 5. The program does remain in place and on the same renewal terms as before. At any time, however, Congress could act to make the popular program permanent or to put a final end to it.