Judge orders Indiana to strike Ukrainian provision from humanitarian parole driver’s license law

Jan 12, 2024, 10:15 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge ordered Indiana to strike a provision in state law that allows people on humanitarian parole to obtain driver’s licenses but only if they are from Ukraine.

The judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday to a group Haitian immigrants in Indiana who have sued the state over the recently passed law. The Haitian immigrants say the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional and are seeking to permanently ban the provision.

It was unclear Friday if the state will appeal the judge’s order.

The lawsuit was filed in August against the Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center.

“I plan to continue advocating for justice alongside the other plaintiffs, because getting a driver’s license should be dependent on following the rules of the road, not on the country where you were born,” lead plaintiff Jeffson Saint-Hilaire said in a written statement provided by the ACLU of Indiana.

The law in question, Indiana House Enrolled Act 1050, provides an avenue for immigrants on humanitarian parole from Ukraine to obtain driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Four of the five Haitian immigrants — who are all on humanitarian parole — live in rural areas without public transportation, according to the lawsuit, and are seeking to have the same opportunities of the law provided to them. They rely on others for rides to work and other everyday activities such as grocery shopping, attorneys have said. The final plaintiff is a minor who wishes to receive an identification card.

Attorneys for the Haitian immigrants have argued that the law violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It also creates its own immigration classifications, which is an authority reserved by the federal government, they contend.

The Associated Press asked the Indiana Attorney General’s office, who is representing the Commissioner, whether the state will appeal the judge’s order. In a November court hearing, attorneys for the state argued that the law was adopted to mirror provisions in Congress’s Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, and therefore does not conflict with federal law or federal immigration classifications.

In her 45-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said the law distinguishes between classes of humanitarian parolees and there is a strong likelihood that the provision violates the Equal Protection Clause.

“If the Indiana statute permitted all humanitarian parolees alike to obtain licenses, identification cards or titles, plaintiffs would not need to bring this suit,” she wrote.

Pratt ordered Indiana to strike the Ukrainian provision language in her preliminary injunction, leaving the rest of the law in place.

The lawsuit also seeks class action certification, which is still pending.

“We will continue to pursue this case to ensure that Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians have an equal opportunity to support their families and communities,” Gavin M. Rose, senior attorney with the ACLU of Indiana, said in the statement.

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Judge orders Indiana to strike Ukrainian provision from humanitarian parole driver’s license law