Professional licenses sought for young immigrants

A new class of Nebraskans would be eligible for professional licensure under a bill advanced from general file March 23.

LB947, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, would allow Nebraska residents who are covered by the federal Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to apply for a professional or commercial license in order to practice his or her profession.

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. 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.

Mello said restricting those authorized to work under DACA is unreasonable and economically shortsighted for the state.

“Many young immigrant Nebraskans and their communities have benefited in a variety of ways from DACA but there remains a gap in our state law that prevents these work-authorized Nebraskans from fully maximizing their educational and professional potential,” he said.

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 31-5, clarified that residents eligible under DACA could apply for credentials under the Uniform Credentialing Act.

Committee chairperson Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings said it is incomprehensible that a person educated to practice as an accountant, nurse or engineer would be barred from seeking employment in their chosen professional area.

“We have people running all over the country trying to get people to move to Nebraska,” he said. “We raise them, we educate them and then we tell them to go across the river and practice in Iowa. That should never happen.”

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell opposed the bill. He said he supported providing driver licenses to DACA residents in 2015 but providing professional or commercial licenses is a different situation.

“Noncitizens have been advised all the way along the educational process of the complications associated with their choice of area of study and that they may be denied licensure,” he said, adding that DACA residents enter a professional field knowing they do not currently qualify.

Senators advanced the bill to select file on a 27-7 vote.

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