- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nearly 200 young people traveled to the State Capitol on Tuesday to challenge Nebraska’s standing as the only state that will not legally allow them to drive a car because of their immigration status.

The young adults from Columbus, South Sioux City and Omaha bused or carpooled to Lincoln to pack a three-hour legislative hearing for a bill by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha that would allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants who were granted deferred-action status.

Nearly 3,000 Nebraskans are currently approved for that status under the Obama administration’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which grants temporary permission for youths who were brought into the country illegally as children to live and work in the United States without being deported.

The policy requires applicants to have come to the U.S. before they turned 16, be younger than 30, to have been in the country for at least five continuous years, to be in school or have graduated from high school or GED program or to have served in the military. In turn, DACA recipients receive a social security number and a renewable two-year work permit.

Former Gov. Dave Heineman announced in 2012 that Nebraska would not issue driver’s licenses to such youths, saying their deferred-action status does not give the group the lawful status required to obtain a driver’s license under state law.

Those who testified Tuesday said they had no choice in their immigration process as children, but now as adults cannot contribute to their communities without driver’s licenses. Nordquist said Nebraska has already invested tax dollars in the individuals’ educations, and the current policy drives those tax dollars out of state.

Maria Flores, 27, moved with her family to Omaha from Mexico when she was 12. She learned English, graduated from high school and earned a degree in sociology from Bellevue University. Though she said she sees a need for social workers in the state, she does not qualify for certain jobs because she would not be able to perform home visits. She said she cannot drive her children, 1 and 3, to childcare or medical appointments.

Representatives from the Nebraska Cattlemen Association, Nebraska Restaurant Association, Nebraska Retail Federation and Nebraska Dairy Association supported the bill, saying the current policy hurts the state’s economy by preventing immigrants from finding and maintaining jobs in industries that need them.

“Financially and economically, Nebraska would drop to its knees if it wasn’t for the support of this labor force,” said Jerry Kuenning, a member of the Nebraska Cattlemen Immigration Task Force.

But Beverly Reicks, of National Safety Council Nebraska, called the bill is a public safety issue, saying unlicensed drivers are 9.5 times more likely to flee the scene of an accident and twice as likely to drive drunk.

Last June, a federal district court ordered Arizona to grant driver’s licenses to DACA recipients, leaving Nebraska is the only state to deny driver’s licenses to those individuals.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ office declined comment on whether the governor would veto the bill if it passes through the Legislature but said the governor opposes taxpayer dollars going to individuals who have entered the country illegally. While campaigning, Ricketts said he would maintain the policy set under Heineman.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in June 2013 on behalf of four Omaha DACA recipients. In 2014 the state of Nebraska attempted to remove the case to federal court but failed. A trial is expected to begin in April.

The committee took no action on the bill.

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The bill is LB623.

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