LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska will continue to deny driver’s licenses to young undocumentedl immigrants who are now eligible for U.S. work permits under a new Obama administration policy, Gov. Dave Heineman said Friday.
The Republican governor said the state will not issue licenses, welfare benefits or any other public assistance to the immigrants unless otherwise required by Nebraska law.
“They shouldn’t be here if they’re not here legally,” Heineman told reporters. “That’s the whole problem, and I’ve talked to you guys about this many, many times. When you don’t secure the border, have a speedier technological way to legal immigration, and you won’t address the issue that we’ve got 15 million illegal immigrants in the country right now, we end up with these situations.”
The federal policy that went into effect this week allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a work permit and a temporary stay if they were brought to the country as children and have no criminal background.
Hundreds of thousands of them could benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Barack Obama announced in June. The program is beginning just months before what promises to be a tight contest for the White House in which the Hispanic vote may play an important role.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, ordered her state this week not to issue driver’s licenses to those who apply for work papers under the new program. Other states, such as California, already issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Immigration remains a volatile issue in Nebraska, and has led to fierce disagreements between Heineman and the Legislature.
In April, Heineman vetoed a proposal to extend prenatal care benefits to undocumented immigrant women and accused lawmakers of placing an unfair tax burden on legal Nebraska residents. Lawmakers overrode the veto and forced the measure into law, with supporters arguing that the need to protect fetuses trumped the concerns about illegal immigration.
Heineman acknowledged Friday that his announcement will not affect the prenatal care bill.
Groups that are helping young immigrants apply for the program say it encourages them to find jobs and contribute to Nebraska’s economy.
“Without something like this, we’re almost asking for a tremendous amount of anger, frustration, and what’s that going to lead to?” said Max Graves, executive director of the Center for Legal Immigration Assistance in Lincoln. “I don’t think that’s good for the community. This encourages kids to stay in school. It encourages them to get a diploma. It encourages them to make the most of their skills and abilities, and to express those through work.”
Graves said about 50 people have expressed interest in the program in the last few days. Banning the immigrants from getting a license could force them to drive without one, he said. And not being able to drive could complicate their efforts to find legitimate work.
“Nobody can get a driver’s license without legal documentation,” Graves said. “But these kids, if they’re approved for this, are legally documented. They have legal authorization by the federal government.”