For Some Young Immigrants, A Driver's License Remains Out of Reach

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Every morning, Jani Martinez readies for her job as a personal banker at the Wells Fargo branch in downtown Lincoln. But it’s often a challenge to get to the office.

“I wake up get ready for work,” she said. “I have to call my rides, whoever is available to pick me up.”

What many of us take for granted -- a driver’s license – is out of reach for Martinez. At 22, she relies on her father and friends for a ride to and from work.

Martinez was 4 years old when she and her parents illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and eventually settled in Lincoln.

Nebraska is now the only state in the Union that denies driver’s licenses to immigrants who qualify to remain in the country, at least temporarily, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) rule enacted in June 2012.

On Wednesday, Senator Jeremy Nordquist, of Omaha, continued his push to get the state to issue licenses to hundreds of young immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States but who have been given a reprieve by the Obama administration from deportation.

Some of these young immigrants called “Dreamers” shared their life stories Wednesday during a press event in Lincoln, hoping to put a face on a brewing controversy in the Cornhusker State over illegal immigration.

Nordquist has been leading the push to pass legislation that would require the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses to immigrants who qualify to remain in this country under DACA.

“I certainly think the administration has the ability right now to make the decision to provide drivers licenses to DACA youth in our state,” Nordquist said in an interview.

Governor Dave Heineman has disagreed with that assessment and has called for tighter controls at the country’s borders.

The issue has become a talking point in the governor’s race, with Republican candidate Pete Ricketts and Democrat Chuck Hassebrook sharply divided over how to overhaul immigration policy. They also differ on whether DACA immigrants should be granted driver’s licenses.

"DACA recipients are a major boost to our state right now and they're going to be a boost for our state for generations to come,” Nordquist said Wednesday. “We're Investing in them as taxpayers were investing in their future and education...and the positive impact of it they're having in our community are tremendous."

Earlier this year, a federal court threw out Arizona’s restrictions. However, a Nebraska judge threw out a challenge to the state’s rules, while another case has been transferred to federal court.

More than 2,300 young immigrants in Nebraska have been granted temporary residency under DACA, allowing them to go to school and work in this country.

“They give you a Social Security (number), and they give you the right to work, and they give you the right to supposedly establish yourself,” Martinez said.

But it does not guarantee driver’s licenses.

Tania Moreno, who also arrived illegally in the United States as a child, lamented the challenges.

“You not only deny us a (license), you also deny all of us the opportunity that comes with it. It’s a daily necessity that affects us in our daily life.”