RALEIGH – Two of North Carolina’s leading civil rights organizations are asking North Carolina Transportation Secretary Anthony Tata to reinstate a Department of Motor Vehicles policy that allowed young immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States to be issued driver’s licenses. That policy had been suspended pending guidance from the state attorney general, whose office issued a legal opinion on Jan. 17 explaining that young immigrants granted deferred action under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are “legally present” and meet all qualifications for licenses.
In a Jan. 18 letter, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) and the North Carolina Justice Center pointed to that opinion and guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as reasons why the North Carolina DMV should reinstate licenses for the young immigrants in question. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also clarified on Jan. 18 that DACA recipients are “legally present.” Secretary Tata had previously told the Raleigh News & Observer, “We’ll do whatever the law tells us to do.”
“Both the Attorney General’s Office and DHS have now clarified that DACA recipients are ‘legally present’,” reads the letter from the ACLU-NCLF and Justice Center. “As such, DACA recipients meet the qualifications for [a] North Carolina driver’s license, and there is no legal reason to deny DACA recipients licenses another day. Accordingly, we ask that the DMV take immediate steps to implement the opinion of the Attorney General and continue to issue licenses to DACA recipients. Additionally, any licenses cancelled as a result of the erroneous policy change should be reinstated.”
The DACA program blocks deportation for young immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 16, are not older than 31, have graduated high school or attended college, or served in the military. DACA recipients are “legally present” in the U.S. and are eligible to obtain all DMV-required documentation, including Social Security numbers and employment authorization. Many states allow immigrants with work permits to obtain licenses. Earlier this month, Illinois lawmakers passed a law that would allow all undocumented immigrants to receive temporary licenses. The ACLU and other groups filed litigation in Michigan and Arizona after officials denied licenses to DACA recipients there.