Idea of driving permits for illegal immigrants divides House committee

Posted June 2, 2015
Updated June 8, 2015

— Legislation that would grant driving permits to North Carolina residents who are in the United States illegally bogged down in a House committee Tuesday morning.

After 90 minutes of often contentious debate, Chairman Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, said the House Finance Committee had gone past the time allowed under House rules for a vote on House Bill 328. So, he adjourned the meeting, saying the bill would resurface in a future committee meeting.

The proposal would create a "restricted ID" for undocumented residents in North Carolina who undergo fingerprinting and background checks and prove their identity and state residence. Driving privileges would be attached to the restricted ID, provided applicants pass a state driving test and obtain liability insurance coverage.

"This is a fairly simple bill that is greatly misunderstood and deliberately misrepresented," said lead sponsor Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan. "This bill has absolutely nothing to do with immigration, immigration law or immigration reform – nothing. This is about law enforcement and about safety for our citizens."

Between 90,000 and 110,000 undocumented people are driving on North Carolina roads, Warren estimated, but they don't carry the same responsibilities as other drivers to pass tests and carry insurance before getting behind the wheel.

"Every provision of this bill works to hold citizens and those illegally present in North Carolina accountable to North Carolina law," he said.

Yet, some lawmakers said providing undocumented residents with a state-issued ID was akin to legitimizing their presence in the state.

"I think we grossly underestimate the value and rights of citizenship in this country and the seriousness of the crime of illegally entering this country," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham. "We should not be encouraging, should not be endorsing, should not be accepting illegal immigration in any way."

Warren noted that the permit, which would be good for only one year, would be distinct from a driver's license in that it couldn't be used as identification to obtain public assistance or other government services or to register to vote.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, tried to strip the permit provision from the bill, agreeing with Jones and others that few outside the legislature would draw the distinction Warren outlined and that the permit would become a de facto ID for undocumented residents, opening more doors for them.

"We're taking one more step down the road to legitimacy if we allow these permits," Blust said.

Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, even brought out the specter of 9/11 during the debate, noting that terrorists were able to get past security screenings by carrying Florida driver's licenses rather than foreign visas.

Warren sharply criticized the proposed amendment, saying he was "absolutely flabbergasted" by suggestions that doing nothing is better than doing something.

"What we're doing is deciding whether or not we're going to hold people accountable or whether we're going to continue with the status quo," he said.

The fingerprinting and background checks would create a statewide database that would benefit law enforcement, he said. Although the state Division of Motor Vehicles couldn't turn over information to immigration authorities when people sign up for a permit, the information would be available to law enforcement if someone commits a crime.

Warren also dismissed the notion that creating a permit would serve as a magnet and attract more undocumented people to North Carolina. Thirteen other state offer licenses or driving permits to undocumented residents, he said, but none have the hoops House Bill 328 sets up to obtain one.

"Driver's licenses and permits and driving privileges doesn't drive immigration to your state. The opportunity to work does," he said. "There are not people in Honduras saying, 'God, if I can just get to North Carolina, I get a driver's license.'"

Blust's amendment was defeated 11-22.

The bill also would make producing or selling counterfeit identification documents a felony – it is currently a misdemeanor – and prohibit municipalities and nonprofit groups from creating their own ID cards for immigrants. Also, cards issued by foreign consulates would no longer be accepted as IDs by government agencies or law enforcement.

Rep. Edward Hanes, D-Forsyth, said he worries that the provision about possessing a fake ID would catch more underage college students than anybody else. Warren said he would be willing to work with Hanes to adjust the bill but insisted that the intent is to reduce identity theft and encourage people to get the state-issued IDs.

Other provisions of the bill would require that someone remain in jail until trial if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a detainer on him or her, outline how law enforcement can verify someone's immigration status during a traffic stop or arrest – verification wouldn't be necessary if the person displayed the state-issued ID – and set the procedure for seizing vehicles from undocumented residents caught driving without a restricted permit.


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  • Travis Upchurch Jun 9, 2015
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    looks like a good way to round all the illegals up and send them home!! just make sure they have to show proof of there residency. !! Now line up and get you one.

  • Michael Diaz Jun 3, 2015
    user avatar

    You Guys should be asking your selves:
    does a "undocumented People" do ANY Harm to this Country?......the answer is simple.....NO!!
    they are only come here to work and make your cities look better, the food that you eat on a nice Restaurant, is being prepared for many of them in the kitchens and you don't know it.....they cut your lawn, clean the restrooms at the malls...I name it...!

    The people whom You'll should be really worried, will be the Terrorist ....(Middle east people) they come here "Legally" even become citizens....and they are the ones that actually Get the "American Dream Jobs" putting "Americans" on the Unemployment Benches... you guys keep making a big deal about Latinos getting Their Jobs..what jobs? think what kind of work they do? will you guys do that kind of work? I guess not...if you are sitting at home/work on a computer reading this, that means you work in a office and they are not!
    Worry about the Terrorists and let this people get a chance!

  • William Blasko Jun 3, 2015
    user avatar

    This should not even be a topic of discussion. They are here Illegally, they should get no rights. Now if someone comes here LEGALLY then you have all rights and privileges that is granted with your visa or documents allow.

  • Larry Price Jun 3, 2015
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    Many of these individuals represent districts with farmers who need these people to keep their farms profitable.

  • Sandra Phillips Jun 3, 2015
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    If someone is in the US "illegally" - is that not breaking a law. They do not deserve anything if their stay here is "illegal". This really does not seem that difficult.

  • Kristen Ford-Newell Jun 3, 2015
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    People who break our laws, ( initially by knowingly being illegal) will have no respect for any other laws, no matter what they will be. Does anyone think the they will obey traffic laws? Can they read our laws and regulations? Illegals should not be granted privileges held by most law abiding CITIZENS..which they are not. Illegals committed a felony by being illegal ..they should be in jail or deported instead of driving around our country. Why should hard working legal people pay for these felons? Our politicians who allow this nonsense should never be re-elected since they can't seem to enforce our laws. ....They are violating of the oath they swore to. I'm tired of this ..and I'm sure most Americans are...Illegals have no rights...they should never have a free ride to anything when there are many legal immigrants, and American who don't. Wake up people..Pretty soon there will be no laws...

  • Sean Creasy Jun 3, 2015
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    If they aren't worried about abiding by our immigration laws then what makes you think they are going to abide by all of the other laws we have? I feel that if they are in our country illegally then they don't deserve any of the privileges that are granted to legal immigrants... These are after all privileges NOT entitlements....

  • Iliana Santillan Jun 2, 2015
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    Please try to understandy that immigrants help revitalize declining communities and ailing economies. Furthermore, in recognition of these contributions, states and cities across the country are creating welcoming initiatives that seek to integrate and maximize the contributions of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, without an emphasis on legal status. NC is a state that depends on immigrants!

  • Pat Demby Jun 2, 2015
    user avatar

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    There is no "hate". Well, maybe a little; I hate that I work, pay taxes, follow the rules and I get to pay for someone else's free ride after they broke our laws.

    Thats just me, but I suspect most will agree what you call "hate" is just a fundamental understanding that BREAKING THE LAW shouldn't be rewarded or encouraged.

  • Florence Siman Jun 2, 2015
    user avatar

    Most NC towns and cities have little or no public transportation making it nearly impossible for individuals to get around to their places of employment and to access much needed services, including medical services.
    Denying a significant proportion of immigrants the ability to work and access a driver’s license undercuts the real and potential benefits that an immigrant population offers. Even though this bill is not ideal, it would ensure that ALL drivers who qualify for a license have learned NC traffic laws, have passed a driving test and have auto insurance. This bill would also greatly benefit the NC economy by increasing revenue to the NC DMV and to auto insurance companies.