NC Democrats want immigrants to get same licenses
North Carolina's plan to grant specially marked driver's licenses to qualifying illegal immigrants later this month is discriminatory and reinforces attitudes that Latino residents are second-class residents, critics said Monday.
Lawmakers, clergy and Hispanic young adults benefiting from a new Obama administration program to grant federal work permits to immigrants condemned the state Department of Transportation's decision last month to issue licenses with bright pink stripes and the words "NO LAWFUL STATUS" on them.
"I do feel discriminated against," said Jose Rico, 23, of Raleigh, who has lived in North Carolina for 10 years and has been issued a work permit under the program. "Now they have given us the driver's licenses, but with a scarlet letter — with a pink stripe."
Several Democrats have filed a bill that would direct the licenses to look like regular permits, without the stripes or the words. Like the ones to be issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles starting March 25, the permits envisioned in the Democratic counterproposal would expire when the person's work permit first expires in two years.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, announced by President Barack Obama last year, is for qualified applicants brought to the U.S. as children without legal authorization. These young people now have a legal presence in the country, said state Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, one of the bill's primary sponsors.
"That's what our bill says. They should be treated like everyone else," Luebke said.
Following a lengthy review, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced the DMV would begin issuing the licenses for program participants. The decision followed a legal review released in January by the state attorney general's office, which found state law requires program participants to be granted licenses. Tata said last month the process would allow these "applicants to obtain driver licenses, while protecting the rights of all United States citizens."
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who appointed Tata, said last week he supported the issuance of the licenses, which he called a "pragmatic compromise." He declined to comment specifically about their proposed design but said they will ensure driver's licenses can't be used to receive other government services or register to vote. Luebke said McCrory could ask Tata to re-design the licenses.
Speakers at the Legislative Building said the differently-styled licenses serve no reasonable purpose and are immoral and cruel by stigmatizing young Hispanic adults already being scrutinized by law enforcement.
The pink-striped license "conjures up horrific images of the not-so-distant history of an evil time when badges, and colors and stripes foretold the course of one's life and death," said state Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, another sponsor of the Democratic bill.
Chances for that bill's passage seem unlikely given that Republicans are in charge of the legislature.
Some of McCrory's fellow Republicans at the legislature have filed a bill that would delay DMV from issuing licenses for a few months. One bill sponsor said the program is unconstitutional.
Rabbi John Friedman of the Judea Reform Congregation in Durham said he can't understand why officials would want to single out these drivers with different permits except that "they wished somehow to take back the dreams of young people in our communities and in our state."