Nebraska DACA ‘Dreamers’ get shot at drivers licenses’ with LB 623
April 22nd, 2015
Nebraska is the only state in the country, that doesn’t allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to be eligible for driver’s licenses. A bill proposed by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist designed to permit DACA recipient’s drivers licenses just succeeded committee approval and now heads to the Nebraska legislature floor for debate.
Omaha, NE – President Obama’s DACA Initiative in 2012 granted undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children exemption from deportation.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/final.mp3]
It also permitted these so called ‘dreamers’ a renewable two-year work permit, as long as they came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday and before June 2007.
Originally Arizona also joined the Cornhusker state in denying drivers’ licenses to dreamers. However, recently Arizona was ordered by a U.S. District Court to start issuing licenses to DACA recipients. Nebraska State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said the main reason Nebraska is the only state to not allow dreamers drivers licenses, is because in 2012 then Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman denied DACA recipients the chance to attain them.
LB 623 in the Nebraska Unicameral is trying to change that.
But when the bill first came to committee, it obtained only two (out of eight) of the five votes needed for advancement. Two weeks ago, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert wrote a letter to Speaker Galen Hadley and the other state senators in the Nebraska unicameral, urging them to pass the bill.
“It’s important for people to understand it doesn’t give DACA recipients citizenship and it doesn’t give them the right to vote,” Mayor Stothert said. “It doesn’t mean they are citizens, it means they have a status that is a legal status within our country right now.”
Since March 18th, 28 Nebraska state senators have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. For perspective, bills need 25 votes to become law in the legislature. But there is sure to be opposition to the bill and possibly amendments when LB 623 gets to the floor for debate. Mayor Stothert said she understands the opposition to the bill, but said if it’s passed DACA recipients would have guidelines to adhere to.
“They have to be either in school, graduated from school or serving our country in the military,” Stothert said. “So they can study to be a lawyer, but they can’t drive to school legally? It makes no sense to me. The Department of Homeland Security does consider them having a legal status.”
Sen. Nordquist, who is sponsoring LB 623, said there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the county, yet the U.S. only has the resources to deport about 400,000 annually. He said DACA was a step to allow these kids to step out of the shadows, so to speak. He said the problem started 15-20 years ago.
“We had companies in Nebraska going to Latin American countries to recruit a workforce to come to Nebraska,” Sen. Nordquist said. “At the time the country wasn’t focused on cracking down on undocumented immigrants and it was happening all over the country and people just let it happen.”
There are about 2,700 dreamers in Nebraska and around 600,000 nationally.
Gisele, who preferred using only her first name, is a DACA dreamer and a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She also works in Omaha. In 2012, when the deferred action was completed due to executive action, Gisele said it was a ray of hope.
“We were scared because it’s a temporary thing. It could be taken away at any time,” Gisele said. “But it was definitely something positive for us. My family was very happy. We started the process for my brother and I right away because we were that excited about it.”
Stephanie, who also preferred using only her first name, is a deferred action recipient and student at UNO. She said it changed her outlook on the future when she found out about DACA. Instead of worrying about being deported, it was something concrete to build on.
“When I heard about DACA, it was a big relief, I was so excited and really happy,” Stephanie said. “I remember my mom was crying and saying ‘this is something really good, it’s something that will benefit you.’ It felt really good to hear her feel happy for once, that we were here for a reason and that we are fighting for something.”
Sen. Nordquist said he arrived in Nebraska in 2000 to attend Creighton University. He noted many of these dreamers have been in Nebraska longer than he has and are just as Nebraskan as he is.
“We’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars into our K-12 system and through higher education and they can take that education we’ve invested as tax-payers to 49 other states,” Sen. Nordquist said. “They can go to any of our neighboring states and get a driver’s license. We are the only state that has created this barrier and this barrier needs to be removed very, very soon.”
Sen. John Murante from Gretna is an opponent of LB 623. He told me this week he would be against any bill that gives ‘illegal immigrants tax-payer funded state benefits.’ Mayor Stothert said not acting keeps a couple thousand people in Nebraska in legal limbo. But she said there is an obvious problem in this country with border security.
“I feel like our nation’s borders needs to be secured,” Mayor Stothert said. “I feel like our immigration policy needs to be overhauled. I don’t think either party has done very well. But I do feel like we should make the children of undocumented workers, who are on the path to legal status, have the tools they need to be productive members of our community.”
Mayor Stothert said LB 623 helps Omaha and Nebraska embrace what the other 49 states have.
“I think it’s just something that is going to be good for Omaha and I think it would improve public safety, because it is just another way to get these people with this status registered,” Mayor Stothert said.
Gisele and Stephanie both hope to finish school and become citizens one day. But they said in their hearts, they are Americans.
“DACA is just a step forward, it keeps us hopeful, it keeps us going to school and working hard every day, just for that possibility that there will be an end in sight,” Gisele said.
In the coming weeks LB 623 will go to the floor where it has to pass three round of debate. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who opposes giving undocumented workers driver’s licenses, could veto the bill if it passes. It would then take 30 votes to override a possible gubernatorial veto.