In a 20-page opinion released today, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin said the Texas Department of Public Safety does not have to halt its policy that prevents some legal U.S. residents from getting driver's licenses.
In October 2008, the DPS adopted a driver's license policy intended to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting driver's licenses. The policy requires drivers to prove that they are citizens or legal U.S. residents. Those whose legal residency is valid for fewer than six months are denied licenses. Under the new policy, the agency also gives non-citizens vertically oriented licenses with the words "TEMPORARY VISITOR" in bright red across the top. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the state on behalf of several legal U.S. residents and a Dallas-area landscaping company arguing that the policy prevented the workers from doing jobs they were legally authorized to perform. They also argued that the different-looking licenses subjected the workers to discrimination.
This spring, Texas District Judge Orlinda Naranjo in Austin ruled with MALDEF and issued a temporary injunction that would have halted the policy. DPS immediately appealed Naranjo's injunction and has continued the policy of denying licenses to those who legal status expires in six months or less and issuing vertical licenses to non-citizens.
The three-judge appellate court in its ruling today said that MALDEF did not establish probability that its clients would suffer "imminent, irreparable injury for which there is no adequate remedy." An immediate stop to the policy, the court rules, is unnecessary.
MALDEF senior attorney David Hinojosa said despite the appellate court's ruling today, he remains confident that the claims against DPS will eventually be upheld in trial, which he expects to happen in 2010. DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Lauri Saathoff, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, which is representing DPS, said attorneys were still reviewing the decision this afternoon.