Nebraska moves to allow professional licenses for immigrants

AP News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2016 8:35 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would allow immigrants with temporary legal status to work in more than 170 professions, including jobs as teachers, nurses and doctors.

Senators passed the measure with a 33-11 vote, enough support to override a likely veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Supporters say that the youths should have access to professional and commercial licenses. The bill would apply to those who came or were brought to the country illegally, but received lawful status under President Barack Obama's executive action allowing them to stay in the country. Nebraska had nearly 5,200 youths who could be affected by the legislation as of December, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The bill has won support from an array of business and religious groups, the Nebraska Cattlemen Association and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. It would apply to more than 170 professions, from electricians and pharmacists to tattoo artists and mixed martial artists.

"It's a common sense workforce development proposal to keep educated and skilled residents in Nebraska," said Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the measure's sponsor.

Mello said he introduced the bill after learning that some youth in the Omaha area who are in the country illegally were getting trained in the medical field and then taking their skills to Iowa because they couldn't get licensed in Nebraska.

Many states don't specifically prevent the youth from getting professional licenses, he said, but a 2009 state law prohibits Nebraska from granting "benefits" to anyone who has entered the country illegally. Under Nebraska law, benefits include state-issued commercial and professional licenses.

The issue has already surfaced in other legislatures and is expected to spread.

"There are a lot of states that haven't looked closely at it," said Tanya Broder, a senior staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. "Nebraska is part of a growing trend."

Florida enacted a law in 2014 that allows law licenses for youths who were brought to the U.S. as a minor, have work authorization and have lived in the country for more than 10 years. Illinois passed a similar measure last year, and Nevada approved a law to allow teaching licenses for deferred-action youths.

A new California law allows professional and commercial licenses for anyone with a taxpayer identification number, regardless of their immigration status

The policy announced by President Barack Obama in 2012 gives certain youths a Social Security number, a two-year work permit and protection from deportation. It applies to people who are at least 15 years old, 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.

Ricketts said the bill is too broad and is unfair to immigrants who followed the legal process to establish residency. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the governor said it would also grant licenses to asylum seekers and people with temporary protected status, including those from countries such as Somalia, Syria, and Yemen where terrorists are known to congregate.

Mello said both types of immigrants are forced to undergo a rigorous federal screening before they are granted the status.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, a conservative Republican, said the state shouldn't reward the children of people who came to the country illegally, even though the federal government granted them legal status.

"I just don't think it's our job," Kintner said. "We didn't cause the problem. We shouldn't have to fix the problem. We should put the pressure on the federal government to fix the problem that they created, perpetuated and have failed to do anything about."

Florida and Illinois have already passed laws allowing deferred-action youths to receive law licenses. California allows professional and vocational licenses for anyone with an individual taxpayer identification number, regardless of immigration status.

Advocates for the youth cheered Wednesday's vote.

Passing the bill "is a great step forward for Nebraska because we all have much to gain from the skills, talent and hard work of the young people who could obtain professional licenses," said Darcy Tromanhauser, who works on immigration issues for the group Nebraska Appleseed.

Last year, Nebraska became the nation's last state to extend driving privileges to those who were allowed to stay in the U.S. under Obama's program. Ricketts opposed that measure as well, but senators overrode his veto.

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The bill is LB947