State Appellate Court Reverses Temporary Injunction Blocking Texas DPS’ New Driver’s License Rules, but Allows Case to go Forward

December 31, 2009

AUSTIN, TX – Today, the Austin Third Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s injunction that temporarily stopped the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) from enforcing rules that deny driver’s licenses to legal immigrants living and working in Texas. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s (MALDEF) case challenges recently-adopted rules and policies of the Texas DPS that prevent thousands of persons across Texas from receiving standard-issued licenses even though they possess valid immigration documents issued by the federal government. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the harm was “imminent” and “irreparable” (which are required elements for a temporary injunction), because the plaintiffs could have driven legally with Mexican driver’s licenses until a final decision on the merits was reached.

“The present ruling has no bearing on the merits of the case,” said MALDEF Senior Litigator David Hinojosa. “We remain fully confident that when a final decision is reached, the courts will find that the Texas Department of Public Safety exceeded its legislative authority when it chose to deny licenses to people who legally reside in Texas.”

Following a two-day hearing on the temporary injunction on March 25 and 26, 2009, the trial court issued an order holding that DPS acted outside the scope of its authority when it adopted the new rules that effectively allowed DPS to exclude otherwise qualified persons from receiving driver’s licenses solely on the basis that they held less than one-year visas or had less than six-months remaining of permission on their visas. The lower court also held that DPS exceeded its scope when it changed the appearance of driver’s licenses for persons with legal permission to reside in the U.S., but who are not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. That injunction never went into effect because it was automatically stayed when DPS appealed the case to the Third Court of Appeals.

In the appeal, DPS also argued that it was immune from the suit and that the suit should be dismissed altogether, but the appellate court rejected that argument and remanded the case to the trial court for a final trial on the merits. The trial court will determine whether DPS exceeded its scope of legislative authority in adopting the new rules and changing the appearance of licenses. MALDEF intends to add to its complaint additional persons who possess valid immigration documents and who have been affected by the new rules.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund