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LINCOLN, Neb. – The American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit today in state court against Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. The lawsuit, Hernandez v. Heineman, challenges a decision by the governor to deny driver's licenses to young people who have been authorized to remain lawfully in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The suit is brought on behalf of four named plaintiffs, all DACA recipients who were brought to the U.S. as children, have grown up here, graduated from local high schools and are currently authorized to work in the country.
"Without a license to drive, you constantly face limits on what you can accomplish in your life," said Maria Hernandez, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "It limits the jobs you can apply for, affects where you go to school, and how much you can support your family. Having a driver's license is essential to taking advantage of opportunities, and in many cases, making a living."
Currently, Nebraska and Arizona are the only two states in the country that have opted to deny driver's licenses to DACA recipients even though the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed in January 2013 that individuals granted deferred action under DACA are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to be in the U.S. and are therefore considered to be lawfully present.
"As the rest of the country moves on to integrate and support these young people so that they can contribute and thrive as community members, Nebraska and Arizona continue to be the outliers," said Christine P. Sun, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Denying driver's licenses to DACA recipients who are lawfully present in the country is a throwback to the punitive policies that a majority of states have abandoned."
The governor's denial of driver's licenses to DACA recipients has been met with widespread opposition among Latinos and immigrants in Nebraska. The ACLU and its community partners will challenge the policy on multiple fronts, including mobilizing community members and exploring possible legislation.
"This policy is discriminatory and it violates Nebraska's own constitution," said Amy Miller, legal director of the ACLU of Nebraska. "We are confident that the courts will agree that these young people are not being treated fairly and should be allowed to get licenses and get on with their lives. Right here in Nebraska, public opinion has shifted and our legislature has once again kept discriminatory, anti-immigrant legislation at bay. Gov. Heineman's policy doesn't fit with the values of Nebraskans."
Nebraska Gov. Heineman announced his decision to deny DACA driver's licenses to DACA recipients in August 2012.
"What is particularly appalling about this situation is that the governor circumvented Nebraska's process for developing regulations which involves public participation and scrutiny, and then announced by way of a press release that he would deny these young people driver's licenses," said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Becki Brenner.
While the DACA program helps provide a lifeline for many immigrant youth who have been living in the United States in fear because of their immigration status, it does not negate the need for Congress to enact federal legislation that provides a roadmap to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people, including young people who came here as children commonly known as DREAMers.