Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) is a non-profit regional law firm that provides high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity.
Children of Undocumented Parents Unlawfully Denied Driver’s Licenses
Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, et al. v. Registrar, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Obtaining a temporary instruction permit at age 15 and then a driver’s license at age 16 is a step to gaining independence, supporting oneself and assisting one’s family financially, and attending school and extracurricular activities. Sadly, thousands of non-citizen and U.S.-citizen minors across Ohio who were eligible to obtain a driver’s license were unable to do so, because of the national origin and immigration status of their parents.
In October of 2018 - when ABLE filed this case - approximately 3,000 young Ohioans could not obtain drivers’ licenses because Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) policy did not permit their undocumented parents to cosign their applications, nor did it permit them to use another U.S.-citizen adult as a cosigner in lieu of a parent. ABLE represented three Ohio residents under the age of 18 who were either U.S. citizens or had special immigrant juvenile status and were unable to obtain an Ohio driver’s license or state identification card due to their parents’ immigration status, as well as the Cincinnati-based Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, many of whose young members had been denied access to a driver’s license under the policy.
After the BMV refused to change their policy to comport with the law, ABLE filed suit to uphold the rights of the three young people and others similarly situated in Ohio, arguing that the BMV’s policy discriminatory because it required a parent or guardian to prove lawful immigration status to cosign for their minor child. When a parent or legal guardian was unable to provide this documentation, BMV policy prohibited any other adult from serving as a cosigner. The policy violated these minors’ rights to equal protection of the law – and the rights of others with undocumented parents.
In February 2020, Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. decided the case in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the BMV policy unlawfully created a distinction between U.S. citizens whose parents had lawful immigration status and those who did not and that the BMV had not provided a compelling justification for treating the plaintiffs differently than other young Ohioans.
This case shows how U.S. citizens can also be excluded from equal justice in this country, merely because of their parents’ national origin and immigration status. Without ABLE’s legal representation, civil rights violations like these could continue unchecked.