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Louisiana top court strikes down immigrant driving law

The Louisiana Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a state law that made it a crime for non-US citizens to drive a vehicle without carrying proof of lawful immigration status. The court found that the state law [text] is preempted by federal law under the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Arizona v. United States [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The case arose when defendant Alexis Sarrabea was charged with being an alien student and/or a nonresident alien who operated a motor vehicle in the parish of Lafayette without documentation demonstrating that he was lawfully present in the US. Following a nolo contendere plea, Sarrabea reserved the right to appeal the claim that the state law is preempted by federal law. The state appeals court reversed and set aside Sarrabea's conviction and sentence. Following the appeals court ruling, the state applied for supervisory review to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The court granted the state's application and consolidated the case for argument with two additional cases which were decided in separate opinions, State v. Ramirez and State v. Marquez [opinions, PDF]. The Supreme Court resolved the split among the lower courts, striking down the state law.

In the past decade, one prevalent issue surrounding immigration laws has been the issuance of driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Earlier this month California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain driver's licenses in California [JURIST report]. In contrast, Arizona's Department of Transportation announced last month that the existing ban on driver's licenses for immigrants [JURIST report] participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) [materials] would be extended to anyone whose deportation has been deferred. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has challenged the Arizona ban, as well as a similar ban in Nebraska [JURIST reports].

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