Professional licenses for young immigrants advanced

A new class of Nebraskans would be eligible for professional licensure under a bill advanced from select file April 7.

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. Eligible residents could apply for credentials under the Uniform Credentialing Act.

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 the bill is a common sense proposal to address workforce challenges in the state.

“The narrow intent of this bill is to ensure work-authorized residents—including DACA recipients with federally authorized lawful presence—are able to obtain professional and commercial licenses,” he said.

Mello introduced an amendment, adopted 28-1, clarifying that any professional license granted under the bill would be rescinded if a person’s lawful status is rescinded. It also would ensure that recipients are ineligible for public benefits other than a professional license. He said the amendment addressed unfounded concerns that LB947 could be a step toward creating a pathway to citizenship.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist supported the bill, saying the state should do everything in its power to retain educated young people.

“The state spends millions each year trying to attract people with the right qualifications to earn money, pay taxes and contribute to society,” he said. “These young adults are already here and educated by our schools. We don’t have to pay a dime to attract them, we just need to keep them here.”

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion opposed the bill. He said offering professional licenses to undocumented immigrants rewards lawlessness and sends the wrong message to citizens who are in the U.S. legally.

Following the adoption of a technical amendment, senators advanced the bill to final reading by voice vote.

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