Stories in the Journal Star this month have explored the difficulty that Gov. Dave Heineman has created for ambitious Nebraska youths.
They are the more than 1,400 youths who have been granted “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Status” in a program created a year ago by President Barack Obama.
Typical was the story that Lincoln North Star graduate Jessica Jimenez told to Journal Star reporter Art Hovey. “I was incredibly happy,” Jimenez said, “because now I could work and pay for college and I felt that would open some more doors. But then the governor pretty much slammed my face with the door when he said I couldn't drive.”
The governor’s actions are a sad repudiation of the words on the poem at the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
In order to qualify, youths have to have been brought to the country when they were younger than age 16, been in the United States since June 15, 2007, be in school, or a high school grad, have a GED or been honorably discharged from the U.S. military, never been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor, and meet other requirements.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says young persons granted deferred action status are “authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to be present in the United States and considered to be lawfully present during their deferred action” period.
The governor refuses to accept the legitimacy of the program, but he doesn’t have much company in his interpretation of a complex legal question. Only Arizona has joined Nebraska in denying driver’s licenses to the youths in the program.
When he issued the executive order establishing the program, Obama pointed out that the youths in the target group were too young to have been involved in their parent’s decision to cross the border, and that many of them have no life to go to back to in their home country.
Arturo Spindola of the Nebraska Latino American Commission thinks that Heineman’s refusal to grant licenses will be struck down in court, and he pointed out that the policy hurts Nebraska’s efforts to attract quality workers. “The only rural counties in Nebraska that see a population increase are the counties with a high percentage of Latino individuals,” Spindola said.
The refusal to grant licenses also hurts the state’s public safety effort because it increases the likelihood that unlicensed, uninsured drivers will be on the road.
For the sake of young Nebraskans in the deferred action group, and for the future of the state as a whole, we hope that Spindola’s prediction soon becomes reality. The sooner this misguided policy is rejected, the better.