In early November 2008, NC Justice Center Staff Attorney Jack Holtzman contacted us, seeking participation in challenging the North Carolina DMV’s current policies regarding issuing driver’s licenses to legally present refugees and asylees. Specifically, although these legally present immigrants are working and taxpaying residents of North Carolina, they are prohibited under the NC DMV’s current policy from obtaining the same regular duration drivers licenses, as are provided to similarly situated U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (“LPRs” or “Green card” holders).

The NC DMV’s previous policy allowed refugees and asylees to prove their identity through a variety of acceptable documents and did not restrict the duration of their driver’s license to a period shorter than that provided to U.S. citizens or LPRs. However, at some time subsequent to the issuance of that 2007 policy guidance, NC DMV changed its policy so that only an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will now be accepted as proof of identification by NC DMV staff as part of the application process for refugees and asylees. However, the NCDMV does not appear to be either required or authorized under applicable state or federal law or regulation to restrict the duration of a refugee’s or asylee’s drivers license, based upon the one-year expiration date listed on the EAD. Consequently, the NC Justice Center and the ACLU-NCLF sent a joint letter to NC DMV on November 21, 2008, asking NC DMV to a) revise its policy to “decouple” its proof of identity documents requirement from the procedure in which the NC DMV establishes the duration of each refugees and asylees respective drivers license; b) issue written policy guidance to all NC DMV office regarding the change in policy; and c) establish and implement a process in which all refugees and asylees who have been improperly assigned a limited-duration North Carolina drivers license can exchange their limited duration license for a regular duration license, as currently provided to United States citizens and LPRs, without any related cost to the refugee or asylee.

On March 10, 2009, Jack Holtzman and ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Katy Parker met with officials from the Attorney General’s office regarding this matter. At the meeting, those officials expressed a willingness to resolve this matter informally.