Nebraska ended the nation's last ban on driving privileges for young people brought into the United States illegally as children, after the Legislature voted Thursday to override a veto from the state's new Republican governor.
Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 34-10 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has backed the strict policy of his GOP predecessor that left Nebraska as the only state to deny the licenses to youths granted temporary protection from deportation. Senators said Nebraska youth who have been granted deferred-action status are active contributors to the state's economy and should not be penalized for their parents' actions.
"Forty-nine other states recognize this hypocrisy ... let's make it 50," said Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island.
President Barack Obama announced an executive action in 2012 that creates the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving the youths a Social Security number, a two-year work permit and protection from deportation. Although a few states initially announced that they would deny licenses to those youths, only Arizona and Nebraska ultimately adopted policies to exclude them. A court blocked Arizona's law in July, leaving in place only Nebraska's, which former Gov. Dave Heineman approved three years ago.
The deferred-action category applies to youths 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. An estimated 2,700 recipients of the program have been raised and educated in Nebraska.
Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings said he supported the override because under the current policy, DACA individuals who have become lawyers and doctors still cannot transport themselves to work.
"You mean to tell me we will authorize and license a person to practice medicine in the state of Nebraska but they can't drive a car?" Seiler said. "Are you kidding me? What kind of mentality is that?"
But Ricketts vetoed the bill Wednesday, saying that those who arrived in the country illegally shouldn't receive privileges intended for legal residents and that the bill would allow driver's licenses to millions of other immigrants if Obama's proposal to extend deferred-action status is upheld by federal courts.
"The legislature's decision to provide driver's licenses and state identification cards to illegal immigrants is an inappropriate benefit to non-citizens," Ricketts said in response to the override.
But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said an extension is unlikely to move forward, especially after a federal appeals court signaled opposition to an expanded program on Tuesday.
"It's time to remove a barrier to the success of the kids, but also the success of our economy and our community," Nordquist said.
The override is the third in a series of showdowns between Ricketts and Nebraska senators. The vote came just one day after the Legislature repealed the death penalty in an historic veto override and two weeks after senators voted to override Ricketts on a fuel tax increase.
The bill was propelled forward with bipartisan support that included ranching groups, the Nebraska Restaurant Association and conservative Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, who say the youths need driver's licenses to hold and maintain jobs in industries that need them.
Nebraska Cattlemen President Dave McCracken called the law a "common sense measure" to provide "a strong employee base in rural Nebraska."
The Associated Press