Raleigh, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) and the North Carolina Justice Center (NCJC) have filed a 150B-4 petition for a declaratory ruling to the North Carolina Department of Transportation North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV’s) requesting that the DMV clarify its policy and procedures around issuance of driver licenses to lawfully present noncitizens who are eligible for driver licenses under state law. DMV has been wrongfully denying driver licenses and/or providing limited-term driver licenses to noncitizen North Carolinians. This unlawful and unconstitutional practice is causing deep harm, interfering with North Carolinians’ ability to care for their families and perform activities necessary for daily life.
“Despite their clear statutory eligibility for full-term driver licenses, North Carolina DMVs have denied driver licenses or improperly provided a limited-term driver license,” said Muneeba S. Talukder of the ACLU of North Carolina. “We are asking that the DMV issue a declaratory ruling that comports with the law and the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions and provide clear guidance to its staff so that our clients and other immigrant North Carolinians can resume their daily obligations.”
In North Carolina, over 90 percent of the population relies on cars to go to work and the ability to drive is an essential part of being able to navigate everyday life. The DMV’s improper license denials have harmed many lawfully present immigrants like our clients. Our clients have been unable to maintain steady employment, and have had difficulty driving to medical appointments, caregiving responsibilities, and other obligations.
“The consequences of DMV’s failure to issue licenses to lawfully-present immigrants fall most heavily on low-income and rural North Carolinians, who often lack the means to pay for expensive ride-sharing services and do not have access to public transportation.” said Kate Woomer-Deters, Senior Attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center. “Loss of a driver license can be financially catastrophic as well as causing serious challenges to North Carolinians’ ability to care for themselves and their family members.”
Unlawful denials of driver licenses from immigrants who are otherwise eligible to drive also opens up the very real possibility that immigrants are being funneled into the criminal legal system. Immigrants are lawfully attempting to obtain their license, but when they are denied and must drive to meet their everyday obligations, they are faced with potential criminal consequences for driving without a license.
Our clients are among many immigrants in North Carolina that are potentially impacted by NCDMV’s practice of denying standard full-term driver licenses and in some cases denying even limited term driver licenses.
The ACLU of NC, along with other civil rights organizations, has already filed suit against the DMV (Johnson v. Goodwin) challenging the DMV’s practices of revoking driver licenses for people who were unable to pay traffic fines.