Despite almost unanimous support in both Florida's House and Senate, on Tuesday, in apparent opposition to anything associated with President Obama, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would allow immigrant youth to obtain driver's licenses. While some news accounts have, perhaps unsurprisingly, mischaracterized the issue describing the good governor as refusing to grant "illegal immigrants" the right to drive, such characterizations are not only incorrect, they miss the point. HB 235, would not grant any sort of amnesty or privilege to those that have been marked with the grammatically inaccurate and arcane label of "illegal immigrants." The beneficiaries of HB 235 would be those Florida youth that are recipients of the federal deferred action program; a program that recognizes these youth as individuals deserving to be in this country.
Indeed, HB 235 was not a bill to help those that have broken the law. The contrary is true. As fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio observed during the 2012 Hispanic Leadership Conference:
"there is broad support in America for the notion that for those children that were
brought here at a very young age, by their parents through no fault of their own, who
have grown up here their entire lives, and now want to serve in the military or are high
academic achievers and want to go to school and contribute to America's future, I think
there is broad bipartisan support for the notion that we should somehow figure out a
way to accommodate them."
Likewise, President Obama observed when he announced the deferred action program nearly a year ago:
"[T]hey've been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country -- to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents -- or because of the inaction of politicians.
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you've done everything right your entire life -- studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class -- only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak."
So while our federal leaders correctly understand these youth to be success stories, our governor has made a less than clear statement. His veto either rejected these young people as well as the entire Hispanic community in this state, or was he stating something else? As many know, especially wise politicians, nearly three-quarters of the Hispanic population supported the president the 2012 election. Moreover, the most significant issue for this demographic group was immigration reform. And the reason for the importance given to the issue by Hispanics is that they know immigration policy affects not only those they are familiar with, but it also has an impact on their own lives. Indeed, statements about immigrants invariably make a statement about whether U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent, among other things, will not be profiled as so-called "illegals." The governor may have simply missed an opportunity to clearly state his support for the immigrant community in this state, and perhaps more importantly, his support for the incredibly influential Hispanic community.
Note, virtually all legislative representatives and senators, with only two opposing it, supported HB 235l. What could have been the governor's reason? This is what he wrote on Tuesday: "Although the Legislature may have been well-intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis."
The good governor is simply incorrect. While there are challenges to the deferred action program, the vast majority of constitutional law and immigration experts believe the deferred action program is legal. In the end, I am confident the program will withstand any challenge.
Ironically, the governor may have wanted it both ways with his veto; later in his statement he seems to nevertheless support the issuance of driver's licenses if someone has a federal employment authorization. Because deferred actions recipients receive said authorization after obtaining DACA, it seems in his long statement opposing HB 235, the governor may have been saying deferred action recipients may still be able to obtain driver's licenses. Sadly, a result of the governor's veto many may be left confused:
"Given that deferred action status does not confer substantive rights or lawful status upon an individual, Florida is best served by relying on current state law. Already, Florida law allows those with a federal employment authorization card, without regard to their deferred action status, to obtain a temporary Florida driver license."
Given that deferred action recipients receive federal employment authorization, it appears the governor was simply asserting there was no need for HB 235. Perhaps this what the long and less than clear statement was intended?
Nevertheless, many questions remain: Were the so-called challenges to this federal program worth alienating at worst, or confusing at best, so many in this state? Was it prudent for the governor, especially in this state, to defy what the state's legislative leaders overwhelmingly supported? Like most that have written about the issue, I am left a bit puzzled, but remain hopeful that the governor will clear things up, and not leave us with disquieting conclusions.