The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star editorial.
It is dismaying that Nebraska now stands alone among the 50 states in refusing to issue driver’s licenses to young immigrants who have legal status under a 2012 Obama administration policy.
Until this week, Nebraska had the company of one other state, Arizona, in enforcing this misguided policy.
But a federal appeals court said Arizona cannot continue denying driver’s licenses to young immigrants who have legal status under the Obama program, ruling that the Arizona policy violates the U.S. Constitution.
The three-judge panel ruled that there is no legitimate state interest in treating the young immigrants granted deferred action on deportation differently from other legal noncitizens who apply for driver’s licenses.
The court also suggested that the real reason for the Arizona policy was hostility to the young immigrants who were brought to the United States as small children.
“Defendants' policy appears intended to express animus toward (children in the program) in part because of the federal government’s policy toward them,” the court said, citing a 1996 precedent. “If the constitutional conception of ‘equal protection of the laws’ means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.”
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The Obama program covers immigrants younger than 30 who came to the United States before turning 16, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, are enrolled in or have graduated from high school or a GED program, or have served in the military.
Nebraska’s policy, which was ordered by Gov. Dave Heineman, is based on a state law that is different from the policy in Arizona. The Nebraska policy survived one legal challenge in federal court, and the ruling in the Arizona case will have no effect in Nebraska.
The Arizona ruling, however, might open another avenue for opponents to challenge the policy in Nebraska. A separate case is pending in Lancaster District Court.
One important impact of the Nebraska policy is that it makes it difficult for young immigrants to get jobs. It poses an obstacle to young immigrants who want to better themselves and be productive members of their Nebraska communities.
As Arturo Spindola of the Nebraska Latino American Commission said, the policy “is hurting Nebraska economically.”
The quickest way to remedy Nebraska’s unfortunate situation would be for Gov. Dave Heineman to rescind the state’s unjust and probably unconstitutional policy. But if the policy is still in place when Heineman leaves office in January, the Legislature, with a new group of freshman senators, should take on the job.