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.
Refugees’ Court Victory Will Ensure Equal Access to Ohio Drivers’ Licenses
Community Refugee and Immigration Services, et al. v. Registrar, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Transportation is crucial to most of us. It allows us to get to work, school, doctor’s appointments, and to buy food and medications. A driver’s license is even more critical in Ohio, where public transportation is limited. Under an Ohio BMV policy, certain refugees were denied the ability to apply for driver’s licenses.
After ABLE attorneys filed suit on their behalf, a federal court ruled that a BMV policy applied to stop refugees from applying for driver’s licenses violated their constitutional rights. Over a thousand Ohioans with refugee status may now obtain licenses so that they can care for themselves and their families.
The class of refugees challenged a policy of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) that denied driver’s licenses to individuals who held a valid refugee admission document (“I-94”) and were admitted to the United States with refugee status more than two years ago.
The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in October 2018, were denied a driver’s license when they attempted to apply with their I-94 documentation because their I-94 documents were over two years old. Both plaintiffs were told that under Ohio BMV policy, refugees who presented an I-94 issued more than two years ago could not establish they had lawful immigration status. Plaintiff Community Refugee and Immigration Services also joined the lawsuit because many of its refugee clients had been denied licenses. Because this policy applied to all refugees whose I-94s were more than two years old, the plaintiffs filed the case as a class action on behalf of all similarly-situated refugees in Ohio.
In February 2020, Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. found that the BMV’s policy not to accept a form I-94 that is more than two years old violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution because it encroached on the federal government’s exclusive authority to make immigration classifications.
Because of this legal victory, hundreds of refugees who have called Ohio home for years can obtain driver’s licenses.
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