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July 10, 2014

Host: José Cárdenas

Arizona Driver's Licenses for Young Undocumented Immigrants Ruling

  |   Video
  • The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that young undocumented immigrants who were given deferred deportation status can have driver's licenses in Arizona. Alessandra Soler, executive director for the ACLU of Arizona discusses the ruling.
  • Alessandra Soler - Executive Director, ACLU of Arizona
Category: Immigration   |   Keywords: immigration, arizona, drivers, licenses, young, immigrants, ruling,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: This week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that young undocumented immigrants who were given deferred deportation status can have driver's licenses in Arizona. Governor Brewer had issued an executive order denying those licenses. The court ruled that the young undocumented immigrants were harmed by what the Court said was Arizona's unequal treatment of those granted the federal work permits. The Governor's Office reacted to the ruling by calling President Obama's Deferred Action for Childood Arrivals lawless, and said the ruling was especially disturbing because of the recent influx of young illegal immigrants. Joining me now to talk about the ruling I'm joined by Alessandra Soler, Executive Director for the ACLU of Arizona. Congratulations on the victory. The Governor did react very, very strongly. Any justification for her linking the DACA program to the recent development with respect to the immigrants from Central America, the children?

Alessandra Soler: No, there's absolutely no justification. In fact, there are rules relating to the DACA recipients. They have to be in this country for at least five years, they had to have arrived before they were 16-years-old. The situation involving the humanitarian crisis on the border involves very recent arrivals, and so the circumstances are very different.

José Cárdenas: There's no way the DACA program could be encouraging people to come here from Central America?

Alessandra Soler: No, not at all. And in fact, you know, the federal government -- the reason why they have chosen to give these hardworking young immigrants the ability to work and live in this country is because they recognize the Executive Branch. Congress gave the Executive Branch the discretion to make these decisions about who to allow to live and work in this country, and they made the decision that it's in all of our best interests to allow these young immigrants to live and work here.

José Cárdenas: So before we get into the specifics of the opinion, give us a brief recap as to how we got here.

Alessandra Soler: Sure. What happened was that in August of 2012, the day that the DACA program, the federal Obama’s program to allow, basically, to give these kids a two-year reprieve from deportation to allow them to live and work here, the day that program went into effect the Governor announced an executive order denying them driver's licenses, which was extremely, extremely tragic for these kids. That is one of the things the court ruled now was that not being able to drive in this state is irreparable harm.

José Cárdenas: The reason the governor had to do that, in terms of protecting her position, was otherwise, based upon DACA, they would be entitled to get driver's licenses under Arizona law.

Alessandra Soler: Exactly. Oh, sure. One of the things, for years before we got to this point, August 2012, when she issued that executive order, Brewer had been giving driver's licenses to similarly situated immigrants. In fact, the court ruled from 2005 to 2012, they cited in their decision 47,000 immigrants, noncitizens with work permits had been receiving driver's licenses.

José Cárdenas: And that's because they have deferred status.

Alessandra Soler: Exactly. That's one of the issues in this case that we argued is look, you can't single out these dreamers and treat them differently simply because you disagree with the President's federal policy. And that's what the court ruled.

José Cárdenas: At the trial court level, the Governor responded, as I recall, it had some impact on the court's decision by saying, well okay, I'll take care of that disparate treatment by making sure we don't give licenses to anybody in deferred status.

Alessandra Soler: Right, what she did was make a bad policy worse. She expanded the ban to include domestic violence survivors, victims of sex trafficking, to even more vulnerable groups of immigrants. But the court addressed that head on and said, look --

José Cárdenas: The 9th circuit. But what happened at the District Court? Why was that not persuasive?

Alessandra Soler: The issue at the District Court level was we had asked for a preliminary injunction to immediately block this order from going into effect. And the judge at the District Court level said you weren't able to demonstrate these kids were suffering irreparable harm, so to speak. What they did was the judge said you have a valid argument that these young immigrants are being discriminated against and being singled out under the Fourteenth Amendment, but you haven't demonstrated irreparable harm.

José Cárdenas: And you pointed out the difference between the District Court and the 9th Circuit, as I understand it, are the trial court judge viewed this as a mandatory injunction. You were trying to force the state to do something it hadn't been doing, and that's a tougher standard to beat. The 9th circuit disagreed. Explain all that.

Alessandra Soler: The 9th Circuit basically ruled that we were able to prove that these kids were suffering, and that it was an emergency situation and that we had to block the order from going into effect. They basically -- our clients in this case, we've got single mothers, we have primary caregivers, we have business owners, young 21-year-old business owners who can't see clients unless they take a four-hour bus ride. That was a very, very compelling argument that the court agreed was hurting these kids.

José Cárdenas: And as I understand it what the court said is that, on the issue of whether it would change the status quo or maintain it, they said no, it maintains the status quo because this is what you were doing before DACA came down.

Alessandra Soler: Exactly. That was the point initially. The state of Arizona for years has been issuing driver's licenses to noncitizens who have received deferred action from the federal government. That has been a policy in place for years. Over –- nearly 50,000 immigrants have gotten these licenses. And the state tried all kinds of legal maneuvering and arguments to demonstrate that they had a rational basis for this decision and the court saw through that. And the court said you cannot rationalize discrimination. Your decision to deny them drivers’ licenses is based simply on animus, your hatred towards these young immigrants, and it's causing real harm. So, the 9th Circuit then is remanding it back to the District Court, who will then we estimate in the next 30 days will be issuing an injunction that will allow these kids to get driver's licenses.

José Cárdenas: And I want to talk about we may being seeing coming down the road, literally, no pun intended, you mentioned rational basis. That is actually a term of significance in the opinion because that standard is a fairly weak standard. It's not ruled very hard most of the time for the government to prevail when the court says, we're going to analyze what you've done using that standard. And yet, the 9th Circuit went through argument after argument after argument and said this fails the rational basis test.

Alessandra Soler: Sure. Well, the issue of the disparate treatment, treating these young immigrants differently. The state had argued basically that we're only going to be giving driver's licenses to deferred action citizens who are on some sort of a pathway to remaining here in the United States. And then the court provided examples of that's not the case. Here are examples of where you have been giving licenses to similarly situated immigrants. And again, you can’t legitimize discrimination. The other issue was the state tried to create sort of new classifications for these DACA recipients, the young Dreamers. And then the state said you have no legitimate public policy interest in moving this ban forward.

José Cárdenas: Some of the other arguments the state made had to do with driver's licenses and how they would be used. What happens if you have to take them back and so on and so forth.

Alessandra Soler: Right, I mean, the state said well look, these kids what if the federal government says that, changes its policy, then we're going to have to pull back, collect those driver's licenses. The reality is driver's licenses here in Arizona are issued temporarily. They are issued based off of when you're here lawfully in the United States. They issue them for a period, usually they can expire in one or two years depending on how your immigration status changes, that happens regularly. So we were really pleased that the court went step by step to discredit those arguments.

José Cárdenas: You mentioned the word animus. That’s a word the court used describing perhaps the motivation by the governor with respect to this. Rather harsh statement, don't you think?

Alessandra Soler: It is, but I think we believe the court didn't use the phrase vindictive, but it is -- these kids and these immigrants were sort of caught in this political fight between Brewer and the federal government. She's using them as a football to kind of advance her own political agenda. And that was what the court -- you're right. The court said this is based on animus towards these young immigrants, because of your disagreement with the federal government. Brewer has said in her statement, she's accusing Obama of being lawless. She accuses anyone who disagrees with her of being lawless. But the irony is that the court found that she, in fact, and the State of Arizona are being lawless by ignoring the constitutional rights of these hard working immigrants. Again, from the public policy perspective, this is to our benefit. It's to Arizona's benefit for these kids to be working, contributing to our communities, for them to be licensed and tested and driving and insured on our streets.

José Cárdenas: Alessandra, we're almost out of time. What can we expect to see in a few weeks in terms of action perhaps by the Supreme Court to stay the 9th Circuit’s decision?

Alessandra Soler: The Governor has announced she is going to appeal. We -- obviously that does not mean that the 9th Circuit has to review the decision. She may seek --

José Cárdenas: Reconsideration.

Alessandra Soler: She may.

José Cárdenas: We're almost out of time. Do you think it's going to get to the Supreme Court?

Alessandra Soler: I don't think so. I think that we're estimating, we’re hopeful that within days they will start to issue driver's licenses.

José Cárdenas: Well, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice

  |   Video
  • Newly-appointed Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Scott Bales will discuss his new position and issues relating to the court and justice system.
  • Scott Bales - Chief Justice, Arizona Supreme Court
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, chief, justice, arizona, supreme, court, issues,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: There's a new Supreme Court Chief Justice in Arizona. Scott Bales began his term this month. He was appointed by former Governor Janet Napolitano and has been on the bench since 2005. Joining us to discuss his plans for the court is Chief Justice Bales. Justice Bales, welcome to "Horizonte."

Scott Bales: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: We talk about plans for the court, and I think people assume that means you're going to tell us what you and your colleagues on the bench are going to do, but the court system that you’re responsible for is actually much more than you and the rest of the members of the Supreme Court. Tell us about that.

Scott Bales: Well, it is much more than just the five justices of the Supreme Court. Under our Constitution the Supreme Court has administrative supervision over all the courts in the state, and that is exercised through the Chief Justice. So when you talk about the Arizona judiciary, you're talking about some 500 judicial officers that hold positions from serving as justices of the peace in our rural counties to the judges in our urban courts. And in total, the judicial branch employs nearly 10,000 people, and it includes not only those involved in court proceedings in courthouses, but people who work in other capacities, such as in a large number of probation officers. So, the judiciary is far more than just the Arizona Supreme Court and, it’s more than courts and courthouses.

José Cárdenas: And when you talk about a plan, you really do have a plan. We've got a booklet right here that you put together, you with the help of a lot of other people including the members of the Arizona Judicial Council called "Advancing Justice Together: Courts and Communities, 2014-1019." This is what you're planning for the next five years. And what you just said about the scope of the courts of your jurisdiction explains things such as evaluating programs as you have here for the supervision of the seriously mentally ill, mentoring juvenile probationers and so forth, practices to reduce the risk of violence. Let's talk about some of those areas specifically. And I think people would be surprised to know that the court system is responsible for probation and care and service to juvenile offenders.

Scott Bales: Well, let me just say, as a preface, that the plan reflects that when we do have a new Chief Justice whose term is five years, that coincides with the court's announcing a new strategic agenda to sort of guide the operations of the judiciary and to identify various goals and initiatives. While in a sense, it's my plan; it's a plan that is consistent with what prior Chief Justices have done. And as you said, it reflects input from a lot of people from all around the state.

José Cárdenas: Over the course of about a year, as I understand.

Scott Bales: Right, right. It would be inaccurate, in my view, to say this is Chief Justice Bales' plan. It's a plan that the courts have prepared with input from people within the court system and the public more broadly to help us achieve our goals over the next five years. Now what you specifically asked about were I think some of the steps that we take to protect the community through supervision by probation officers or pretrial supervision. One of the goals in the plan, an important goal for the courts, is protecting children, families and communities. One of the ways that we do that is through the supervision of people who have either been released pending the disposition of their criminal case, or who once they have been determined to have offended are under some type of community supervision, and they are not held in jail or otherwise incarcerated but they are out in the community under the supervision of probation officers. And we want to make sure we're doing that in ways that prevent the recurrence of crime, that protect the communities, but also help these people develop a sort of basis for a life in the future where there won't be any infractions with the law.

José Cárdenas: What about you protecting children? There's been so much in the paper over the last several years about Child Protective Services, things that need to be done, unfortunate tragedies that have occurred. These do touch on the court system. What are you doing about that? What's in the plan to help in that score?

Scott Bales: Well, we’ve been working over recent years to make sure that the Court rules that govern those kinds of cases, and they’re dependency cases. They’re cases where the state intervenes because parents have failed to provide the care needed for their children. We want to make sure those rules serve the interests of protecting the children, and make sure the cases move through as quickly as possible. With the changes in Child Protective Services, with the creation of the new department, there may be an increase in those kinds of cases that actually end up in court. And if that happens we'll shift resources to accommodate that. But it -- it is obviously a very important issue. And it partly reflects Arizona's situation in terms of our demographics. We have a relatively high percentage of people in this state who are 18 years or younger, almost 29% of the state's population. And that means that as a court system we have to recognize that a significant portion of our cases will involve young people, in one way or the other, whether they are dependency cases or cases where a youth has committed perhaps some criminal violation, so it's a juvenile delinquency case, or children who are involved in the family court system because their parents are divorcing, or there are other family law issues.

José Cárdenas: And speaking of demographics, there are a few others that are of relevance to the plan that I reviewed. One of them being the large number of Spanish language speakers that we have in this state. What is in this plan directed toward them?

Scott Bales: There are actually several things that recognize that in Arizona we have a large number of people that do not speak English as their primary language. So we've been working to ensure that we have sufficient interpreters in courts throughout the state -- and that's a challenge because here and nationally there is something of a shortage of people that are qualified to be court interpreters in Spanish and in many other languages. So we're working in that regard. We've also been working to ensure that on websites there is information available that's translated into Spanish. We've made great strides over the last year, both on our court's website and on the superior court websites, for the different counties around the state. People can access various court forms in a translated version, so that they are better able to understand them if their primary language or the language that they are more fluent in is Spanish rather than English. The documents that are filed in court have to be filed in English. But this is a way people can perhaps better understand what it is they are being asked to submit to the court. We have, with the help of the Maricopa County Superior Court we have set up a site called the Centro de Auto Servicio. And it’ basically a set of hundreds of forms that are translated into Spanish that people can access online throughout the state, and those forms are consistent with forms that other Superior Courts also use.

José Cárdenas: Another demographic of significance in Arizona is the large number of veterans we have returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have difficulty readjusting to civilian life and end up in trouble, involved in the court system. What's going on with the veterans’ courts that are mentioned here?

Scott Bales: Well, that's another thing that we're looking at as part of our goal of better protecting our communities. It's a variation of something that's often called a specialty court. The veterans’ courts basically handle certain kinds of criminal cases in which a veteran's involved. And they try to determine if the infraction -- say, you know, someone that's disturbing the peace or maybe a public intoxication infraction, if that reflect a broader or different problem that could be remedied if a person were connected with various kinds of social services or perhaps a substance abuse program. And we've found that approach has worked very successfully for drug courts and mental health courts. As you mentioned, Arizona has a large veteran’s population. I was surprised, it's something on the order of more than a half a million veterans are in our state. With the support of the veteran’s community, we've set up pilot projects in several courts both here in Maricopa County and some of the rural counties, such as Mohave, where we're trying to development veterans’ courts. And it’s an approach that recognizes that beyond just deciding a particular case, there will be circumstances where courts best serve their communities by trying to help solve the underlying problem.

José Cárdenas: Mr. Chief Justice, you have served on and now will lead a court system that has been recognized throughout the country and in many, many areas. Let's talk about some of the marks of distinction of this court system and what challenges if any that presents for the future.

Scott Bales: Well, as you mentioned, our court has been nationally recognized, and I say that talking about Arizona's court system collectively from our local justice courts and municipal courts all the way up to our appellate courts. We've been recognized as being innovative. We’ve been recognized as being oriented towards making the courts more accessible. Arizona courts are widely respected for the quality and integrity of their judges. And it's something I'm proud of and committed as part of our plan to continue those traditions of excellence and achievement.

José Cárdenas: And many people think one of the big reasons we are recognized for the quality and integrity of our judges, as you put it, is that for the Supreme Court, for the appellate courts, for the superior courts in the larger counties the judges are appointed. There’s an appointment process, as opposed to running for election. As I understand it this is the 40th anniversary of merit selection, is that right?

Scott Bales: Yes, the voters in 1974 approved the system that we now use to pick the Superior Court judges in three of our counties -- Maricopa, Pima and Pinal –- and the appellate judges for the entire state. So the justices, the judges on the court of appeals and the trial judges in our more populated counties are all appointed under this system. It has worked very well. It's a system where the people are ultimately appointed as judges go through a public application process, and they are reviewed by 15-person committees. And of the 15 people, 10 are non-lawyer members of the community. And their charge is to identify nominees they think are the best qualified. They come up with a slate of nominees and the Governor ultimately appoints from the list the commission identifies. And I think that has served Arizona very well.

José Cárdenas: I think most people agree. And yet, this is something you cover here about relationships with the other branches of government. That's a constant source of dispute with the executive and with the legislature about our merit selection system with others thinking that elections would be better or at least more control over the selection process. What do you see happening in the future? And let's end the interview there -- on a noncontroversial subject.

Scott Bales: [laughter] I think that people who understand how our courts work, and understand the successes we've achieved in serving our communities well, do support merit selection. And I think it's a challenge for our courts to improve how we communicate, not only with other branches of government but also the community more generally about what it is courts do. Because we have a tradition of excellence in our judiciary that we should make sure other people understand. Part of the theme of the new strategic agenda, the title of the new strategic agenda is "Advancing Justice Together." And it recognizes that for our courts to succeed we need the support of our communities and the support of other parts of government. And I think we earn that by continuing to do a good job and affording justice to all Arizona. And we do that by better communicating with those for whom we serve.

José Cárdenas: Mr. Chief Justice Bales, congratulations on your appointment. Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte" and best of luck on implementing the plan. It's an ambitious one. We wish you the best

Scott Bales: Thank you.