LINCOLN, Neb. — The Trump administration’s decision to wind down a federal program that shields thousands of young immigrants from deportation drew a sharp rebuke Tuesday from Nebraska advocates, business leaders and participating youths who now face an uncertain future.
More than 200 people rallied outside the Nebraska Capitol to protest the decision, announced earlier in the day.
Nebraska has roughly 3,000 immigrants who participate in President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Nationally, the program has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S. It was designed for youths who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The news was especially hard for Zaida Mendez, a 19-year-old community college student who juggles jobs at a grocery store and a shoe store in the Omaha area. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 1-year-old, and for years, Mendez said she didn’t realize she was in the country illegally.
Mendez said she plans to work with groups to try to pressure the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation to continue the program, which granted her lawful presence in the country.
“I’m mad and I’m sad, but I’m not going to let that get to me,” she said through tears.
Despite its status as a deep-red state, Nebraska has passed several laws in recent years that allow the youths to qualify for drivers’ licenses and state-issued occupational licenses to work in more than 170 different professions.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed both proposals, describing them as unfair to legal immigrants, but lawmakers overrode his decision. Attorney General Doug Peterson opposed the policy as well, and joined nine of his counterparts from other states a letter that urged Trump to end it.
Under Peterson, Nebraska joined nine other states that threatened in June to file a lawsuit to stop the program unless the Trump administration acted by Tuesday.
In a statement after the announcement, Peterson said Obama’s order improperly expanded immigration laws that should be debated in Congress.
“Today’s decision restored the proper balance of power by rescinding an executive order,” Peterson said.
Still, some local elected officials say the Trump administration’s decision and the president’s promise of mass deportation would ruin their communities.
“It would mean empty storefronts, empty houses, broken families, empty churches and a community struggling with the effects of mass deportations,” said Crete Mayor Roger Foster, whose town has a large number of Latino immigrants and business owners.
Many business and ranching groups argue that the immigrants play a crucial role to the state economy, particularly in small towns that have only grown because of an influx of workers from other countries.
“Immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial — otherwise they wouldn’t take the kind of risks that they do — and they tend to employ each other,” said Jim Partington, executive director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association.
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