One of the suggestions made during the Primary campaign was that I have been disproportionately favorable to “illegal immigrants.” So let’s try to clear some things up there, and have a conversation.
- The Nebraska Legislature has nothing to say about immigration policy. States RESPOND to the things that the national government decides to do with respect to immigration policy.
- In 2015 and 2016 there were a couple of bills designed to provide some opportunities for those young people who had been granted DACA status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)—in other words, for those young people who had been brought here by their parents without documentation.
- DACA is an Obama-era program which was designed to give those young people a “deferral” on any deportment actions, as well as to give those who had otherwise obeyed our laws the opportunity to work legally.
- There was, admittedly, some question about the constitutionality of the executive order which created the DACA program. However, to date, the Supreme Court has not ruled on it, and the question of constitutionality seems to be more of a political one—with those for it arguing that it IS constitutional, and those against it arguing that it ISN’T.
- Regardless, it was/is policy (the Trump administration is apparently not renewing expiring DACA certificates), and those who were certified received work authorization—making them (albeit temporarily) “documented.” Another form was created, but in many ways, these young people had similar status to foreign students with visas as far as the federal government was concerned.
- In order to get the certification, the young people had to be able to prove all sorts of things—how long they’d been in the country, that they’d had no brushes with law enforcement (they submitted to fingerprinting and background checks, and even relatively minor misdemeanor convictions would disqualify them from certification). (NOTE: Some people refer to these folks as DREAMER’s and then point out heinous crimes that some “DREAMER’s” have committed. THE REALITY: DREAMERS is a broad classification of younger folks, and some have certainly gotten into trouble with the law. DACA recipients are a subclass of DREAMERs—a subclass that has had to submit to criminal background checks, etc. Here’s a good primer on the differences: http://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/370367-the-difference-between-daca-and-dreamers-a-primer
- The question then became one of whether or not—once they had become certified and had authorization to work from the FEDERAL government—the state should allow them the opportunity apply for a driver’s license. We have a number of alternative federally issued forms that are acceptable for non-American citizens to show in order to qualify for a Nebraska driver’s license. (See here: https://dmv.nebraska.gov/sites/dmv.nebraska.gov/files/doc/dls/verificationdocs.pdf). The DACA form was merely added.
- Key to remember here: they still had to pass both the written and driving test; they still had to pay for the licensure. A driver’s license is not an entitlement, or something “given” only to citizens—it is an earned right, which does not require citizenship—and not all citizens can get one, if they can’t pass the test. Indeed, Nebraska allows a number of “legal alien” statuses to apply for and receive a driver’s license.
- Because the DACA recipients were documented on a different form, however, the law in 2015 authorized that form as being adequate for proof of eligibility to test for a driver’s license. We have a number of alternative federally issued forms that are acceptable for non-American citizens to show in order to qualify for a Nebraska driver’s license. (See here: https://dmv.nebraska.gov/sites/dmv.nebraska.gov/files/doc/dls/verificationdocs.pdf). The DACA form was merely added to the list.
- Common sense would suggest that if someone is going to be working in Nebraska, that they’re going to need to get to work, and won’t always be able to depend on someone else to get them there. Nebraska was one of the LAST state to authorize driver’s licenses for DACA recipients. I considered it good public policy to have people who might have a need to drive to be able to prove their proficiency at driving.
- In 2016, a similar bill, for the same group of DACA recipients, was proposed to allow for them to apply for “occupational licenses”. Nebraska has an abundance of occupational licenses—as I found out as I was working LB299 this past year. Many of those licenses are in the trades—where we seem to be experiencing a shortage of workers.
- This bill didn’t give any “special rights” to DACA recipients. Again, it just says that IF you are legally authorized to work in the U.S., and IF you otherwise have the qualifications for licensure, the licensing boards may allow you to be licensed to practice your occupations—but you still have to pay any licensing fees, and for any training required to get the licensure.
The question of immigration is highly contentious and we can disagree about what the appropriate policy for the FEDERAL Government should take is. But constitutionally, immigration is a federal policy, not a state one. We just respond. The federal government could (theoretically) grant permanent legal status to anyone in the country today—or could say that any person not a citizen in the country is subject to deportation immediately. In either instance, the state would follow the lead, and have to adjust laws accordingly.
My general philosophy with respect to immigration is this: I wish people would respect our borders, however I understand that the vast majority of people who come here--both with and without documentation--are searching for opportunity. I don't think that immigrants should get "special deals" (and indeed, if we didn't have a "welfare state", much of the argument about immigration would dissipate, I believe). But in the case of DACA recipients, they have kept their noses clean legally; they have been granted temporary lawful status by the federal government, and I believe that if they are going to be here, and are able to work, we shouldn't make it tougher for them.
The positions I took on DACA were supported by both business and business ag organizations--organizations which are generally quite conservative--because they believed that this was a "workforce" issue. Employers are looking for employees.