RALEIGH – The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office informed the state Department of Motor Vehicles today that young immigrants who are “lawfully present” in the United States and have been granted work permits under a federal program meet all requirements for North Carolina driver’s licenses and should therefore be issued licenses by the DMV.

“[I]ndividuals who have been granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy directive are lawfully present in the United States during a period of deferment,” wrote Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson G. Kelley in a Jan. 17 letter to DMV officials. Kelley said a general statute concerning state DMV license requirements “requires that such licenses be issued” to the immigrants in questions.

“In light of this clear opinion, the DMV should do the right thing and reinstate its policy of granting licenses to all qualified drivers who have received deferred action,” said Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “There is no reason – legal or otherwise – why the DMV should prevent immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States from driving and further contributing to our state and society.”

The DMV had until recently been granting licenses to young immigrants who had been granted a two-year work permit under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That 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. The state DMV said it would stop issuing licenses to DACA deferred action recipients until it receives a legal opinion from the state attorney general. “We’ll do whatever the law tells us to do,” Transportation Secretary Tony Tata told the News & Observer Friday.

“We’re pleased that the Attorney General’s office has chosen to follow the law,” said Kate Woomer-Deters, an attorney with the NC Justice Center’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Allowing young immigrants access to driver’s licenses is the right thing to do, and we commend the state for coming to that conclusion.”

In a Jan. 11 letter, the ACLU-NCLF and North Carolina Justice Center urged the North Carolina Attorney General’s office to advise the DMV to continue to issue driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients. The letter points out that 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, including North Carolina, allow immigrants with work permits to obtain licenses. Last week, 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.

Read the letter from the Attorney General's office here.

(Image via North Carolina DMV)