Lawsuit over Nebraska's denial of driver's licenses to some immigrants moved to federal court

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OMAHA, Nebraska — A lawsuit challenging Nebraska's practice of denying driver's licenses for immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children has been moved to federal court.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit last year in Lancaster County District Court on behalf of four Omaha residents. The lawsuit says Nebraska officials violated state law that requires state agencies to go through a public hearing and comment period before making significant changes to state rules and regulations. It also says the policy also violates the state constitution's right to due process and equal protection.

The Nebraska Attorney General's Office had the case transferred to federal court last week, saying that federal law created the issue on which the lawsuit is based.

Nebraska and Arizona are the only states that refuse to issue driver's licenses to participants in President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was enacted in the summer of 2012. The program allows people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to work in the country, and protects them from deportation for two years. A federal appeals court recently struck down Arizona's policy, but the state has asked the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider.

Within days of Obama's program going into effect, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman declared that Nebraska would deny driver's licenses to those eligible under it. Heineman is named as a defendant in the ACLU's lawsuit.

The case is now before Chief U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp, who sided with the state earlier this year in a similar lawsuit by a Peru State College student. In that ruling, Smith Camp said the student had not shown Nebraska had violated the equal-protection rights of young immigrants who were denied driver's licenses.

Amy Miller, legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska, said the state's request to move the lawsuit to federal court came after a state judge last week denied Nebraska attorneys' request to resolve the case without a trial, which had been set to begin in state court on Sept. 30.

"Removing this case to federal court with trial imminent is nothing but a last ditch effort to maintain Gov. Heineman and the DMV's unlawful practice of denying driver's licenses to young immigrants the federal government has authorized to live and work in Nebraska," Miller said.

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