TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Two state policies that stopped some refugees and children of immigrants from getting driver’s licenses in Ohio have been struck down by a federal judge.
The separate rulings will affect an estimated 4,000 people in Ohio, most of them teenagers who are U.S. citizens and were blocked from getting driver’s licenses because of the immigration status of their parents, said civil rights groups behind the lawsuits.
The organizations that challenged the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ policies said both were discriminatory because they denied licenses or state identification cards to people who are lawfully living in the U.S.
U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus in Columbus overturned the policies in rulings issued on Tuesday and last week. A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office said they are reviewing the decision.
In one of the lawsuits, a group challenged the state’s denial of driver’s licenses to teenagers, many of whom are citizens born in the U.S.
The teens, their attorneys said, were rejected because of a policy that requires a parent or guardian to prove lawful immigration status so that they can cosign for their child.
The case of a 15 1/2-year-old from Toledo was cited. He was denied a temporary driver’s permit in 2017 because his mother only had a Mexican passport and identification card. He was denied again when he tried to have his mother’s friend, who is a U.S. citizen, act as a cosigner.
Being able to drive is “fundamental to accessing many human rights like working, attending school, caring for family members and obtaining medical care,” said Emily Brown, a lawyer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality.
Attorneys for the state had argued that the motor vehicles bureau has a legitimate reason in verifying the cosigner’s identity, saying diver’s licenses are a primary form of identification and that it has an interest in verifying the information.
But the judge said the policy created a distinction between American citizens who are minors and “targets only those minors whose parents lack lawful status.”
The other ruling overturned a policy that required refugees who came to the U.S. more than two years ago to prove they were now permanent residents before granting them licenses.
The state said it was simply verifying that the plaintiffs are still authorized to stay in the U.S. and regulating drivers license to comply with the federal Real ID, a special license that requires documents proving citizenship.
But the judge said the state was going above federal law and creating a new category determining whether a refugee is lawfully in the U.S.
The state policy “encroaches on the federal government’s exclusive authority to make immigration classifications,” Sargus wrote.