On Thursday, Nebraska became the last state in the country to grant driver’s licenses to certain undocumented immigrants protected by a 2012 presidential executive action. State lawmakers voted 34–10 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ (R) veto on a bill to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants shielded from deportation by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In something of a déjà vu moment, state lawmakers had already voted 34–9 on the bill last week, four votes more than needed in the unicameral Legislature to override a veto by the governor.
Some states resisted providing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients or so-called DREAMers, but Arizona and Nebraska were the only states that exclusively adopted measures to exclude such individuals from driver’s license eligibility. According to the Associated Press, “Arizona’s law was blocked by a federal appeals court in July, leaving in place only Nebraska’s, which former Gov. Dave Heineman approved three years ago.”
Jordy Gonzalez, 19, has been waiting for this moment since 2012 when he applied for the DACA program and got a job as a customer service representative at a charity organization. Gonzalez is a DACA recipient who was one year old when he was brought to the country from Guatemala. His family settled in Nebraska when he was two years old. He just finished his first semester at Central Community College, which is 20 minutes away from his home and work. A driver’s license is “necessary because where I live, there’s no public transportation,” he told ThinkProgress as he waited for the Nebraska State Legislature to vote on Thursday. “I live in rural Nebraska and without a driver’s license, it’s been difficult to drive. Most of us try to find ways. I ask to get carpooled when it’s necessary.”
But carpooling for Gonzalez also means that there are many times when he has to leave early in the morning only to be picked up later in the day, many times hours after his classes end. Gonzalez carpools because “I want to abide by the laws, but sometimes it’s not easy.”
“I’m very displeased with Gov. Rickett’s position on this,” Gonzalez explained. “It was no surprise to me. He was very against it, but it makes me very sad because everyone looks up to him and when you have that kind of person turning their back on you, then it’s like you have no support whatsoever. Just because I’m undocumented doesn’t mean I can’t be somebody.”
Advocates argue that licensing drivers would in part provide greater safety and accountability by giving police the ability to identify motorists during stops; allowing first responders and health care providers the ability to use the license to identify the individuals they’re assisting; giving drivers more incentive to stay at the scene of an accident; and burdening courts and jails less with drivers who are there solely for driving without a license or insurance.
The vote comes just one day after state lawmakers approved a bill to repeal the death penalty through a veto override.