Gov. Rick Scott vetoed an immigration bill that would have helped undocumented young people obtain a state driver’s license. (Photo courtesy of Rick Scott.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed children of immigrants who are not U.S. citizens to obtain a driver license in Florida.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Scott vetoed the bill because it would have helped out the many young people in the state who are now safe from deportation, due to a policy change in the Obama administration that protects the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation if they meet specific criteria.

Scott said that specific federal policy change was the basis for his veto.

According to the Times, Scott wrote in his veto message that: “Deferred action status is simply a policy of the Obama administration absent Congressional direction, designed to dictate removal action decisions using DHS (Department of Homeland Security) agency discretion. It was never passed by Congress, nor is it a promulgated rule.”

House Bill 235, which Gov. Scott vetoed, would have expedited the process that allows these young people to drive in the state, giving them greater opportunity to find work and go to school. In the GOP-led Florida Senate, the bill passed unanimously. In the GOP-led Florida House, it passed 115-2.

As the National Journal reports, this move might fly in the face of current Republican efforts to appeal to Hispanic voters:

The last-minute block and tackle suggests Scott’s sensitivity toward conservative activists, who were aghast when the onetime crusader against Obama’s health care law embraced in February the administration’s proposed expansion of Medicaid. The proposal to accept millions in federal dollars to insure poor people was beaten back by state lawmakers but not without leaving a mark on Scott, who is expected to face a tough reelection campaign in 2014 against former governor and newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist.

Scott’s veto also highlights the Republican Party’s struggle to boost its appeal within the fast-growing Hispanic community. The bill’s sponsors said the governor’s veto flies in the face of the millions of dollars the Republican Party is allocating to minority outreach and candidate recruitment.

“Make no mistake about it: This will be an anti-Hispanic bomb if he vetoes this bill,’’ said Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto, one of the legislation’s sponsors. “The vast majority of my peers understand we need to encourage immigrants to become working members of our society. It makes no sense that the Scott administration would veto something it’s already doing.”

The House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Randolph Bracy of Orlando, said, “I thought the party was moving in that direction and was behind this bill, and then the governor just comes out of nowhere and does this. Republicans have been talking as a party about Hispanic outreach, and this was only a small step.”

Civil rights groups and Democrats are speaking out against the veto.

According to the Times, the Florida Democratic Party said that Scott “continues to alienate and discriminate against thousands of undocumented immigrants.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said in a statement that the veto “sends a message that he’s willing to play politics with the lives of young people.”

“He is politicizing what was a non-controversial issue that passed the legislature with near-unanimous support,” wrote Howard Simon, the ACLU of Florida’s executive director. “At a time when a majority of Americans support common-sense immigration reform and our elected leaders are finally working to fix our broken immigration system, the Governor’s veto is a step backwards. It creates a needless stumbling block for young people who have grown up in our communities and are aspiring citizens.”

However, the ACLU also notes that the veto doesn’t mean that young people that receive deferred action under the Obama administration cannot get driver’s licenses in Florida.

Here’s a statement from the ACLU:

Under existing state law, the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles has already made it a policy to provide young people who qualify for Deferred Action with temporary drivers’ licenses if they have employment authorization from the federal government. The ACLU of Florida sent a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles today explaining that Tuesday’s veto should have no impact on that policy.

News of Scott’s veto comes the same day news broke that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi did not join a coalition of 35 other state attorneys general who are banding together to show support for comprehensive immigration reform, which is currently making its way through Congress. The bipartisan effort to reform immigration involves two Republican lawmakers from Florida — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart.