Immigrant driver license issue set for clash in Nebraska court and legislature
August 4th, 2014
Lincoln, NE — An estimated 2000 Nebraska residents with a specific immigration status remain unable to get a driverâ€™s license and it’s unlikely Gov. DaveÂ Heineman will change the policy during his remaining months in office.Â Nebraska is the only state blocking some children of undocumented immigrants from getting their licenses. A 2012 change in federal immigration policy, known asÂ Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), provided temporary work permits and Social Security cards to a group of immigrants brought to the country by their parents.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/immigrantdriverslicense8_1_14KVNO01.mp3]
â€œThey had to be younger than 16 when they arrived,â€ said Creighton University economics professor Diana Thomas, who studies the issue.Â Thomas says a successful DACA applicant will â€œbasically be exempted from deportation for a two year period of time.â€
With tens of thousands of immigrant children graduating from high school and college, the Obama administration felt children brought here by parents would not likely be deported en masse and would likely enter the American workforce, one way or another.Â â€œItâ€™s a law that was supposed to make it a little bit easier for this particular part of the immigrant population to become productive members of society,â€ explained Thomas.
The policy of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles singles out the DACA participants as being ineligible for a driverâ€™s license, even if other categories of immigrants are allowed to legally drive.
The stateâ€™s policy is being challenged in Lancaster County District Court.Â The lawsuit was filed by four individuals, ranging from ages 23 to 17, who came to the United States as children with parents who did not secure proper immigration documentation. The complaint filed in District Court argues the rule â€œplaces severe and often insurmountable burdensâ€ on their ability to get and keep jobs â€œas well as on their ability to fully contribute to their communities, assist their families, and accomplish everyday tasks.â€
Itzel Marquez, a 17-year-old graduate of Omaha South High School, added her name to the lawsuit, stating the policy â€œis not fair.â€
â€œEvery other state lets them get licenses and we are the only state that doesnâ€™t allow that,â€ Itzel said.Â â€œWhy canâ€™t we be like everyone else?â€ Nebraska became the only state to retain the restriction after a federal judge in Arizona declared that stateâ€™s rule unconstitutional.Â Arizona withdrew the policy.
Maria Marquez, Itzelâ€™s 20-year-old sister, attends the University of NebraskaÂ at Omaha and works in a law office. She calls the stateâ€™s decision â€œa slap in the faceâ€ since the intent of the federal policy was to encourage this segment of the immigrant population to get educated and earn a living while America reworks its immigration regulations.
â€œIâ€™ve been given Social Security. Iâ€™ve been given a work permit. I canâ€™t get a driverâ€™s license,â€ Maria said. â€œThat didnâ€™t feel good at all.â€
When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented DACA in 2012,Â Governor Heineman issued an executive order authorizing the DMV to change its rules. In aÂ press release issued at the timeÂ the Governor stated:
â€œPresident Obamaâ€™s deferred action program to issue employment authorization documents to illegal immigrants does not make them legal citizens. The State of Nebraska will continue its practice of not issuing driverâ€™s licenses, welfare benefits or other public benefits to illegal immigrants unless specifically authorized by Nebraska statute.â€
The lawsuit, filed for the four plaintiffs by theÂ American Civil Liberties Union, says not only does the policy violate the spirit of the federal mandate, but it was implemented without the approval of the state legislature or a public hearing which, they argue, should have taken place in this case.
There is also a call from some in the Nebraska State Legislature to drop the restriction. State Senator Jeremy Nordquist, representing Omaha,Â plans to introduce a billÂ clearing the way to provide licenses for those approved for the DACA status.Â The issue attracted support from the Nebraska Cattlemen Association. The group represents member ranches and feedlots which on occasion hire immigrants.Â The association has previously joinedÂ other business and trade organizations in calling for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws.
Kristen Hassebrook, speaking for the Association, told the Omaha World-Herald â€œIf they donâ€™t have valid driverâ€™s licenses, not only are they not able to get to work, but they are unable to drive at work. That leaves the employer open to a lot of liability.â€
Other businesses have an interest in putting those with DACA status to work, according to Thomas with Creighton Universityâ€™s Economic Institute at the Heider College of Business.
â€œThey would be able to hold down a job, go to work every day, pay taxes and just be productive members of society,â€ said Thomas. â€œMaking it difficult for people to get to work means you are giving them a choice between either not working and being dependent on others or driving illegally,â€ Thomas said,Â â€œand we donâ€™t want either one of those things.â€
The Marquez sisters, who occasionally drive without a valid license, wish they did not have to break the law for the sake of getting to and from their classes and jobs.
â€œItâ€™s a really big deal,â€ said Itzel.Â â€œIf you donâ€™t have your license you could get in serious trouble, especially if you werenâ€™t born here.â€
Her sister Maria adds itâ€™s also â€œthe little thingsâ€ like providing an I.D. when returning something to a store or getting a car loan that can go from bothersome to impossible without an official state form of identification.
When explaining all the ways the rule affects her daily life, Mariaâ€™s voice cracks and eyes tear up.
â€œIt was just unbelievable to think that this is my home and I canâ€™t do stuffâ€ that is commonplace for other residents, she said.
â€œI told my dad, I understand why the policy is here, but still just hurts every rejection I get.â€
Her father,Â Luis Marquez, a maintenance worker who helped pay for Mariaâ€™s college tuition, shares his daughterâ€™s frustration. He speaks some English, but preferred to have her translate when he talked toÂ a visitor.
â€œThis simple plastic card is the key,â€ Luis said. â€œThey can drive.Â They can get credit from the bank. Without it you have to watch out for yourself and be alert.â€ Having lived in Nebraska for more thanÂ 16 years without necessary documentation, Luis also drives without a Nebraska license.
The Marquez sistersâ€™ lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in Lancaster District Court late in September.
Read the complaint filed against the State of Nebraska here.
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