- Associated Press - Friday, April 15, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed a bill Friday that would allow work in more than 170 professions for immigrants who are granted temporary lawful status after coming to the country illegally.

The Republican governor’s announcement sets the stage for a veto override vote in the Legislature next week. Lawmakers approved the measure with a veto-proof 33-11 vote, although the governor said his staff was still talking with senators to try to draw more to his side. At least four would have to break ranks for the veto to stand.

Ricketts argued that the proposal would allow young immigrants to bypass the traditional immigration process and undermine the rule of law.

“The unfairness and injustice here is stunning,” he said.

The bill would allow certain immigrants to receive professional licenses in health care, education and a variety of other fields.

It would apply to youths who came or were brought into 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 with so-called deferred-action status as of December, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The bill also would allow licenses for people who have a pending or approved application for temporary protecting status and those who have a pending application for asylum.

Ricketts argued against the bill while flanked by two Nebraska residents - one from Ghana and the other from Brazil - who entered the country legally and have navigated the formal citizenship process.

Lawrence Asare-Danquah of Omaha, who moved to Nebraska from Ghana in 2002, said he completed the “very, very hard process” of becoming a citizen and didn’t achieve the status until 2010.

“I feel like it’s unfair for people who follow the rule of law to be penalized,” he said.

Eser Graham-Marski, who immigrated to the United States from Brazil, applied for a student visa and later a work visa and spent several years working to become a citizen, which he will do next month.

“We do have an immigration system problem, but I don’t believe that granting this benefit will solve the problem,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, said he will ask his colleagues to override the governor. Mello said the bill changes nothing about the current path to citizenship, and noted that the two men who appeared at the governor’s press conference might have been eligible for professional licenses sooner under his proposal.

“It is imperative we move past the political rhetoric and focus on keeping skilled and talented people in Nebraska,” Mello said.

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 a variety of professions, including doctors, electricians, pharmacists, tattoo artists and mixed martial artists.

Among those who would benefit is Alejandra Ayotitla, a 20-year-old junior and psychology major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Ayotitla was brought to the United States when she was 9 years old, and said she would like to stay in Nebraska.

“I want to stay. I want to practice here,” she said. “Unfortunately, if it does not pass, I’d have to think about moving to another state where I could get a license.”

Many states don’t specifically prevent the youth from getting professional licenses, 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.

The president’s 2012 deferred-action policy 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.

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.


The bill is LB947

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