DACA

Nebraska State Sen. Tony Vargas speaks to DACA supporters rallying at the state Capitol Tuesday in the wake of an announcement that the Trump administration is ending the program that protected children brought to the U.S. by their parents from being deported. 

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star

Nebraska's governor, attorney general and other state Republicans stood firmly in favor Tuesday of President Donald Trump's action to rescind the DACA program.

Meanwhile, state Democrats branded Trump's decision a cruel act that threw thousands of families into disarray.

It was mostly Nebraska Democrats, with one exception in Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who said they would continue to support young immigrants, called Dreamers, who have enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since 2012.

In Nebraska, more than 3,300 young people were enrolled in the DACA program as of March. The Center for American Progress estimates 2,933 are workers, and that Nebraska could stand to lose $150.2 million annually by removing those workers.

Half again as many Nebraska immigrants are eligible for the program, either now, in the future or if they had the proper education, the center reported. The permits, which allow the young people to work and study without being deported, are renewable after two years. No more applications are being accepted.

Most Nebraska Republicans cited rule of law and separation of powers in their support of Trump's action.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Trump made the right decision in ending President Barack Obama's "unconstitutional" DACA program.

“The president cannot unilaterally change the rules and grant amnesty to people who come to the United States outside the law,” Ricketts said.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the DACA executive order will be rescinded immediately and the program phased out over the next six months is an important step in protecting the rule of law and the separation of powers set forth in the Constitution.

Peterson said his purpose for joining in a letter with other state attorneys general asking for DACA to be rescinded was to prevent any president from unilaterally using executive orders to create laws.

The duty to address immigration issues properly belongs to the legislative branch, he said, adding bipartisan bills currently before the House and Senate addressing the DACA issue are the proper forums for debate. 

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer said Obama’s unilateral action in 2012 went beyond his constitutional authority.

"Today, President Trump took steps to address this executive overreach by the previous administration," she said. "Congress now has the opportunity to address the legal status of the DACA recipients as part of a broader discussion on border security and legal immigration reform.” 

By Tuesday evening, Sen. Ben Sasse had not responded to a request for comment.

Bacon, who co-sponsored the federal Bridge Act, which extends protections for DACA recipients while Congress works toward an updated immigration policy, reassured DACA recipients he was committed to keeping those who are law-abiding in the country.

“I understand why many people are unsure of what the future holds for them and the fears they are feeling,” Bacon said. “This is the only home many of these children, students, friends, and neighbors have known."

The Trump administration’s announcement recognizes that the Constitution gives lawmaking authority to Congress and laws cannot be changed by executive order, Bacon said.

Congress needs to work on a balanced and compassionate approach that ensures law-abiding DACA recipients are able to stay in the country, he said, but also addresses employer compliance with immigration laws, secures our border and improves our visa program.

“I am eager to work on a solution as soon as possible and I urge my colleagues in the House to make this a priority as well,” he said.

Rep. Adrian Smith, in saying Trump's action was correct, offered no promises for DACA recipients.

“The DACA program violated the separation of powers established by our Constitution and should never have been created through executive action," he said. "This and many other aspects of our broken immigration system, such as border security, have gone too long without being addressed."

Congress and the President must come together to create strong, permanent immigration policies rooted in the rule of law, he said. 

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, too, said the issue is the responsibility of Congress, adding "necessary humanitarian exceptions must be nested in policies that further robust border security, interior enforcement against illegal activity, and foreign policy initiatives to mitigate the pressure for economic migration.”

In May, 24 Nebraska lawmakers approved a nonbinding resolution (LR26), introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, opposing any federal action to rescind protections for DACA youths. Seventeen declined to vote, one senator opposed the resolution, and seven were excused and not voting.

In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill (LB623) and then voted 34-10 to override Ricketts' veto of it, to allow young immigrants who grew up and were educated in Nebraska to obtain driver's licenses. The next year, lawmakers passed a bill (LB947) that allowed DACA enrollees to obtain professional and commercial licenses.

Vargas said Tuesday the actions taken by the Trump administration to end the DACA program were shameful and shortsighted.

These DACA youth live, study, work and pay taxes in Nebraska.

“We can’t turn our backs on them,” said Vargas in a statement including three board members of Metro Community College and the Omaha Public Schools.

“We must stand by the educational, economic, and community investments we have made in these young people and their families. And we must acknowledge both the talent investment and the economic impact they have on our local economies."

Omaha Sen. Sara Howard also urged Nebraska’s congressional delegation to do the right thing and pass legislation during the six-month delay.

"Our country’s greatest strength has been our openness to immigrants and the diversity they bring. I will continue to do all that I can to support these students and to fix our broken immigration system,” Howard said.

The Nebraska Republican Party said Obama, or any U.S. president, has no power to change the laws of the country unilaterally.

"To continue the deferred action program would have undermined our Constitution and the role of the Congress to implement laws. Congress now has the opportunity to properly address our broken immigration system, starting with securing our border,” the party said in a statement.

Several Nebraska Democratic leaders stood in support of the Dreamers.

Jane Kleeb, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said the president’s decision was reckless, wrong and cruel.

“America must continue to lead the way on welcoming immigrants to our great state and country. We believe in the hard work of immigrant families,” Kleeb said.

“Trump is a coward for not making the heartless announcement himself and taking questions on what the real motive is behind this reckless move."

Marta Nieves, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party Latino Caucus, said Dreamers bring intelligence, compassion, diversity of thought and perspective, skills, talents and passion to life and to the nation.

“They have been contributing their creativity, and taxes, to the economy and their communities,” she said. “They inspire us to value the best in our nation."

Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska, said hundreds of thousands of young immigrants came out of the shadows five years ago and accepted, in good faith, the government’s offer to live, study and work here if they passed a criminal background check. 

“Today, the government and President Trump went back on their word, threw the lives and futures of 800,000 Dreamers and their families into disarray, and injected chaos and uncertainty into thousands of workplaces and communities across America," Conrad said.

She urged the Nebraska congressional delegation to follow the lead of Congressman Bacon in standing with Dreamers, and said Attorney General Peterson and Gov. Ricketts should end their "misguided and hurtful attacks" on young immigrants.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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