After prolonged debate, lawmakers gave first-round approval May 14 to a bill that would allow young immigrants to drive in Nebraska.
Introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, LB623 would allow Nebraska residents of driving age who are covered by the federal Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to secure a driver’s license or state identification card.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the DACA program is designed to protect from deportation individuals who were brought into the country illegally as children.
In August 2012, then Governor Dave Heineman directed the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to deny driver’s licenses to DACA recipients on the grounds that state law forbids granting public benefits to illegal aliens. Lawsuits are pending against Heineman and the department to stop the withholding of licenses.
Nordquist said the state is treating DACA recipients differently from other similarly situated groups.
“We have young, talented people in our state who are authorized to stay here and obtain work permits but our state is refusing to allow them to apply for driver’s licenses,” he said. “These are well educated young adults who are making significant contributions to their economy but they have the potential to do more.”
Those who meet DACA guidelines are eligible for a work permit and may request deferred action for two years, subject to renewal. To qualify for the program residents must have:
• lived in the U.S. continuously since June 15, 2007;
• been no older than 31 as of June 15, 2012;
• entered the country prior to their 16th birthday;
• attended school, earned a diploma or general education certificate or been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces; and
• not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanors.
Under a Transportation and Telecommunications Committee amendment, adopted 34-0, DACA recipients would be required to relinquish a state driver’s license or identification card if their lawful status were to be revoked by the federal government.
North Platte Sen. Mike Groene introduced an amendment that would have offered a driving privileges card instead of a driver’s license. The card would clearly indicate that the cardholder has temporary privileges. It also would authorize the DMV to revoke any driver’s privileges card if a DACA recipient’s lawful status were to be revoked.
Groene said it must be made clear that DACA recipients do not have all of the rights afforded to citizens.
“They are here because their parents brought them. They’re here by executive order, not congressional action,” Groene said. “It’s not clear [on the license] that these individuals are not citizens. We must make it clear that being a citizen is a privilege.”
Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams supported the bill, saying it is essential to the state’s economic development.
“Our entire state has a low unemployment issue, which is great,” he said. “At the same time, we have many jobs in our state that are going unfilled because we don’t have enough workers to fill them. If we’re to continue expanding our agricultural base in our state, we must address the lack of necessary employees to make that happen.”
Saying that DACA recipients want to stay and work in Nebraska, Crete Sen. Laura Ebke also supported the bill.
“The knee-jerk reaction of saying these kids are illegal and shouldn’t get benefits almost makes sense because we don’t want to encourage illegal activity,” she said, “but these [DACA recipients] are trying to live the American dream. They want to do all the things in Nebraska that we say we wish more kids would.”
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha opposed the bill. He said Nebraska is the only state to have “hardwired” the federal policy in state statute.
“Our state law prohibits this. This bill could advance and I would argue that these individuals still would not receive licenses because [LB623] still does not change in statute all of the areas that talk about lawful status,” he said.
Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner introduced several amendments in an attempt to extend debate on the bill, saying that the state instead should encourage an easier path to legal immigration.
After eight hours of debate spanning two days, Nordquist introduced a motion to invoke cloture—or cease debate and force a vote on the bill—which senators approved on a 39-6 vote. A successful cloture motion requires at least 33 votes in support.
Following the adoption of a technical amendment, senators advanced the bill to select file on a 37-8 vote.