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Community Refugee and Immigration Services v. Petit

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 10, 2019

COMMUNITY REFUGEE AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
DON PETIT, REGISTRAR, OHIO BUREAU OF MOTOR VEHICLES, in hi official capacity, Defendant,

          Kimberly A. Jolson Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted filed by Defendant Charles L. Norman, Registrar ("Registrar") of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("BMV") (ECF No. 9), Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 23), and Defendant's Reply (ECF No. 24). For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I.

         Plaintiffs Gumaa Ismail Yahya Ibrahim and Badreldin Rahouma and organizational Plaintiff Community Refugee and Immigration Services ("CRIS") filed against the BMV Registrar a Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief "to enforce the rights of refugees who apply for driver's licenses in the State of Ohio." (Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs allege:

Refugees are a class of non-citizens authorized to work and reside in the United States and entitled under Ohio law and the REAL ID Act [of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-13, 119 Stat. 302 2005, codified at 49 U.S.C. § 30301[1] to obtain driver's licenses. However, the [BMV] has enacted discriminatory policies that deny or delay the issuance of driver's licenses to these individuals. The BMV's actions are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which forbids states from making immigration classifications distinct from those of the federal government. Because they are unable to procure driver's licenses in a timely fashion, thus hindering their fundamental right to travel to their places of employment, transport their children and family members, and otherwise participate fully in civic life, Plaintiffs and putative class members seek injunctive and declaratory relief against these policies.

Id.

         A refugee is "[a]ny person who is outside any country of such person's nationality ... who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable and unwilling to avail himself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Immigration and Nationality Act of 2016, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(42). Refugees apply for and are granted refugee status abroad. An approval of a refugee application authorizes United States Customs and Border Protection to admit an applicant as a refugee upon arrival. 8 C.F.R. § 207.4. The individual plaintiffs herein possess refugee status from the United States Customs and Border Protection.

         Upon entry and admission into the United States, refugees presenting a credible claim of "well-founded fear of persecution" are issued a Form 1-94 that serves as proof of their immigration status. Neither the paper nor the electronic 1-94 refugee admission document has an expiration date or other date upon which it is no longer a valid document for proof of immigration status and employment authorization. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Some I-94s, such as those held by the individually named Plaintiffs in this action, are marked "D/S," indicating that it is valid for the "Duration of Status." (ECF No. 2-2, Ibrahim 1-94 document; ECF No. 2-4, Rahouma 1-94 entry document). Both the paper and electronic 1-94 records are acceptable proof of lawful immigration status and employment authorization on federal forms, such as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") Form 1-9, and Employment Eligibility Verification, which is used to verify an employee's authorization to work lawfully in the United States.

         With the REAL ID Act, Congress set standards for the issuance of state driver's licenses that federal agencies will accept for official purposes, such as accessing federal facilities and boarding federally regulated aircraft. Pub. L. No. 109-13, § 201(3), 119 Stat. 231, 313 (codified at 49 U.S.C. § 30301 note § 201(3)). The REAL ID Act provides that the Secretary of Homeland Security shall determine whether a state is meeting the requirements of the REAL ID Act based on certifications made by the state to the Secretary of Homeland Security. Id. § 202(a)(2). Ohio, along with at least 24 other states and the District of Columbia, has agreed to comply with the REAL ID Act, thereby ensuring that its residents may use their Ohio driver's licenses to enter federal facilities and board commercial domestic flights.

         To issue a REAL ID Act-compliant driver's license to an applicant, a state must require documentary evidence that the applicant has "lawful status," as defined by the REAL ID Act. Id. § 202(c)(2)(B). The REAL ID Act establishes nine categories of persons who have "lawful status," as required to receive a REAL ID Act-compliant driver's license: (1) citizens or nationals of the United States; (2) aliens lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence in the United States; (3) aliens with conditional permanent resident status in the United States; (4) aliens who have an approved application for asylum in the United States or who entered into the United States in refugee status; (5) aliens with a valid, unexpired nonimmigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa status for entry into the United States; (6) aliens with a pending application for asylum in the United States; (7) aliens with a pending or approved application for temporary protected status in the United States; (8) aliens with approved deferred action status; and (9) aliens with a pending application for adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States or conditional permanent resident status in the United States. Id. § 202(c)(2)(B), 119 Stat. 231, 313 (codified at 49 U.S.C. § 30301 note); 6 C.F.R. § 37.3 (2016).

         Refugees are eligible to adjust status to lawful permanent residency after they have "been physically present in the United States for at least one year." (Compl. ¶ 20) (quoting Immigration and Nationality Act of 2016, 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., Id. §§ 1101(a)(42)(definition of refugee) § 1158 (a)(1) ("Any alien who is physically present in the United States ... may apply for asylum in accordance with this section"); § 1158(a)(2)(B) ("Time limit" explaining that some refugees are eligible to apply for adjustment to lawful permanent residency after one year of physical presence in the United States)). Once an application to adjust status is approved, the refugee's period of permanent residence is retroactively dated to the date of his or her admission to the United States as a refugee. Id.

         To apply for adjustment of status, a refugee must file an application to register for permanent residence or to adjust status, a case type 1-485. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiffs maintain that once a request for permanent residence or status adjustment is filed, the applicant receives an I-797C, which is a receipt notice. (Pis' Mem. in Opp. at 18) (citing USCIS, Form 1-797: Types and Functions, available at https://www.uscis.gov/i-797-info; see also USCIS, Form I-797C: Notices of Action, available at https://www.uscis.gov/forms/form-i-797c-notice-action). Once the application is approved, the applicant will receive an 1-797, which is an approval notice showing that the permanent residency application was approved, not just filed. Id.

         A refugee must also submit Form 1-693 completed by a USCIS-certified "civil surgeon." USCIS has the authority to designate either individual physicians or members of a specified class of physicians as "civil surgeons," provided they meet the legal requirements. Immigration Nationality Act § 232(b), 8 C.F.R. § 232.2(b), and 42 C.F.R. § 34.2(b). Plaintiffs allege that "[c]ivil surgeon fees for completion of Form 1-693 are not covered by Medicaid or other health insurance, and civil surgeons charge fees ranging from approximately $350 to $1000 per person for this service, plus additional fees for required vaccinations as needed." (Compl. ¶ 21.) "Timeframes for adjudication of adjustment of status applications vary from several months to over a year." Id.

         At issue in this case, is the BMV Registrar's policy that denies Ohio driver's licenses to individuals who hold a valid 1-94, but who were admitted to the United States as refugees more than two years prior to the application for a driver's license. Defendant has stipulated that the BMV policy denies driver's licenses to refugees who submit 1-94 refugee admission documents that are more than two years old as sole proof of their lawful immigration status, and grants driver's licenses to refugees who present those same documents if they are less than two years old. (Statement of Stipulated Facts, ECF No. 18 ¶¶ 8, 9.) Defendant's policy as outlined in the Deputy Registrar Manual, submitted in support of the Statement of Stipulated Facts, states that a driver's license applicant presenting an "1-94 with 'indefinite' Refugee stamp over 2 years old" must also present "an 1-797 with case type 1-485." (Deputy Registrar Procedure Manual, ECF No. 18-1 at 33, PagelD 231.) The same policy states that a driver's license applicant presenting an "1-94 with 'indefinite' Refugee stamp within 2 years old ... does not need to present any additional legal presence documents." Id.

         Plaintiffs Rahouma and Ibrahim are refugees who were lawfully admitted to the United States in refugee status and remain in that status today, both holding valid I-94s. Both Plaintiffs were denied Ohio driver's licenses because of the BMV policy that prohibits refugees from obtaining a driver's license if ...


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