National TPS Alliance

A group from the National TPS Alliance on Friday, from left, Juan Vasquez, Ismael Rivera, Rodrigo Quezada, Isabel Alas and Jose Molina.

Several people from El Salvador who are in the country legally through what is known as temporary protected status said Friday that they’re encountering new problems when trying to renew their Nebraska driver’s licenses.

Jose Molina, 49, said this issue is very important to him and others. He tried to renew his driver’s license with the same documents he normally does but was denied and is not sure why, he said during a meeting Friday at Creighton University with Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles officials and representatives from the office of Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

“When the police stop you because you don’t have a driver’s license, they don’t care that you tried to get a driver’s license, that you are entitled to a driver’s license,” he said through a translator.

He was one of several people from the National TPS Alliance to speak at the meeting.

The federal government grants temporary protected status to people from countries where it is not safe to return because of dire conditions such as war or national disaster.

Under President Donald Trump, the government moved to end protected status for several countries, including El Salvador and Haiti. Federal judges have intervened, issuing a preliminary injunction postponing until at least January 2020 the termination of temporary protected status.

Friday’s meeting was intended to explain how people with protected status get driver’s licenses. Instead, the DMV officials got an earful from attendees who said the system is not working as intended.

In the past, people said, they renewed their driver’s license every five years like everyone else. Starting in late 2013, Nebraska drivers licenses would expire when a person's visa or immigration document did. The Trump administration's decision to end the program and the court delays meant that people in the country under TPS have had to renew their license multiple times.

Attendees described bringing the appropriate documentation only to be turned away, unclear on what the next step is. Some said they were asked to produce a document from the federal government that doesn’t exist.

At least one person reported receiving different answers at different DMVs.

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Representatives from the DMV said they would look into the problems. They said state law requires the DMV to check with the federal government about immigration status, and they must follow the guidance they receive.

But they also acknowledged that some problems might have stemmed from examiners’ errors.

Adam Eakin, the DMV’s project and information manager, said that if people suspect they are being denied in error, they should ask to speak to a supervisor.

Matt Giesler, an examiner from Lincoln who handles many of the TPS reviews, said he would bring complaints to the department.

He said sometimes guidance changes from the federal government with little warning.

“We’re training our examiners as quickly as possible,” he said.

Initially, the department was able to approve renewals only through January. But guidance changed and now those in the country under temporary protected status should be able to renew their license for a year, Giesler said.

There are 3,000 people from El Salvador under TPS in Nebraska, according to Bacon’s office.

And this is one of many examples of them living in limbo, unsure if they’ll be made to return to a country some left decades earlier, said Creighton Law student Cesar Magana Linares.

Magana Linares, 22, of Fremont has not returned to El Salvador since coming here at age 2. (He did not have trouble renewing his driver’s license, he said.)

If not for law school homework, he said, the future of his protected status “is all I would be stressing about.”

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Reporter - Politics

Roseann covers politics for The World-Herald. Before she came to The World-Herald in 2011, she covered politics for the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @roseannmoring. Phone: 402-444-1084.

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