Nebraska votes to scrap ban on immigrant driver's licenses

AP News
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Posted: May 21, 2015 6:30 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska's Legislature voted Thursday to end the nation's last ban on driving privileges for young people brought into the United States illegally as children, agreeing to scrap the policy by a veto-proof margin even as the state's new Republican governor continued to signal his opposition.

The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive action President Barack Obama announced in 2012, gives the youths a Social Security number, a two-year work permit and protection from deportation.

Although a few states initially announced that they would deny licenses to those youth, only Arizona and Nebraska ultimately adopted policies to exclude them from driver's license eligibility. Arizona's law was blocked by a federal appeals court in July, leaving in place only Nebraska's, which former Gov. Dave Heineman approved three years ago.

Like his GOP predecessor, Gov. Pete Ricketts has maintained that those who arrived in the country illegally shouldn't receive privileges intended for legal residents.

The unicameral Legislature passed the reversal Thursday on a 34-9 vote — a margin large enough to override a veto from Ricketts. The governor's spokesman released a statement Thursday that didn't indicate whether the governor would veto the change, sign it, or allow it to take effect without his signature.

"The Governor is opposed to providing taxpayer-funded benefits to individuals who have entered our country illegally," spokesman Taylor Gage said in the statement. "He has five days before he has to take action on the bill."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said he is confident lawmakers will override a veto if necessary.

Jon Blazer, San Francisco-based attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said GOP-led state legislatures haven't been opposed to all of Obama's immigration policies. Conservative senators in both Georgia and Kansas soundly rejected bills to take driver's licenses away from deferred-action individuals in their states.

"This is big for Nebraska, but it sort of completes the story," Blazer said. "Nebraska was the last state standing."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska also is challenging the policy in court.

Lazaro Spindola, executive director of the Latino American Commission, said Nebraska's current policy is "shooting ourselves in the foot" by overlooking talent and state pride in deferred-action youth.

"They have grown up in Nebraska," he said. "They have come to love Nebraska as their home state. They don't want to leave Nebraska; they want to stay here with their families. Many of them have achieved higher education, and they want to use all of the talent Nebraska has paid for in bettering the state and making it stronger."

DACA individuals must be at least 15 years old, have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were under 31 in 2012, have lived continuously in the U.S. since 2007 and are in school or working toward a degree.

Luis Olivas of Columbus, 25, has been told his wait-time to get a residency card will be about 20 years.

A new law would be his only chance to travel independently between home, his community college classes and his job as a paralegal at an immigration law firm. Public transportation in smaller Nebraska towns is nearly non-existent.

"We, in the state of Nebraska, are more or less forced to drive, especially those of us in rural communities," Olivas said. "I don't think it makes sense that we're able to work, but we're not able to commute."

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The bill is LB623