Last week the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee held a lengthy hearing on a bill that brought dozens of testifiers to the Capitol. LB 623 would allow driver’s licenses or identification cards to be issued to young adults who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The DACA recipients are children of immigrants who settled in the United States without documentation or legal status. Many of the young immigrants were children and had no voice in whether they would come to the United States. DACA immigrants have deferred protective status granted as a result of presidential executive action rather than action by Congress.
President Barack Obama started the deferred action program in 2012 to help immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a population advocates refer to as “dreamers.” The president’s executive action immediately drew fire from opponents of illegal immigration. Individuals who meet the following criteria can apply for deferred action:
Applicants for deferred action must be under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012;
Came to the U.S. while under the age of 16;
Have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present. (For purposes of calculating this five year period, brief and innocent absences from the United States for humanitarian reasons will not be included);
Entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012;
Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services;
Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces;
Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind; and
Do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
About 2,700 immigrants have received deferred status in Nebraska.
Most states opted to grant driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients, but former Governor Dave Heineman argued that state law prohibited public benefits from going to those who lack legal status. Nebraska is now the only state to deny a driver’s license to these immigrants.
A driver’s license can serve many purposes beyond allowing someone to operate a motor vehicle. Employers require a valid ID of their employees. Banks require valid identification for people to open accounts, and airlines need a driver license or ID card to identify their passengers.
Many supporters of LB 623, including the Nebraska Cattlemen, told the committee members that by having a driver’s license deferred action recipients would be able to drive to school, to their jobs, to pick up their children from daycare as well as other activities needed to be productive in Nebraska. It was stated that the immigrant labor pool fills a varied and diverse need within our state. Hotels, restaurants, nurseries, construction of all kinds, health care, senior care, food processing and most certainly the business of agriculture are all very dependent upon these men and women.
Opponents argued that granting them driving privileges makes it easier for them to compete for jobs with underemployed or unemployed Nebraskans. Nebraska also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country so this is not a valid argument.
Senator Nordquist, the sponsor of LB 623, said that Nebraska has invested in the “dreamers” through its educational system and preventing them from driving only makes it harder for the state to reap a return on that investment. Most of these young people call Nebraska home because this is the only home they know.
If this proposal is passed, it would reaffirm the original legislative intent of LB 215 (2011) regarding the eligibility of certain individuals to obtain a motor vehicle license or state identification card. Thus, immigrants who are qualified under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be eligible to apply for a driver’s license or ID card. This driver’s license or ID card would only be valid for the duration of the DACA program and would expire immediately if this program would not be renewed.
We already allow others with a deferred action status to obtain driver’s licenses. It just makes sense to allow Nebraska DACA individuals to acquire a driver’s license to help them become productive tax paying citizens. Under the DACA program, eligible immigrants are deferred from deportation for a period of two years with the possibility of renewal at the end of those two years.