Local News

DMV will issue driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants

Posted February 14, 2013 3:38 p.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2013 2:49 p.m. EST

— State transportation officials announced Thursday that they will begin issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards March 25 to some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children but qualify under a federal program that blocks deportation and grants work permits.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program blocks deportation of and grants work permits to immigrants brought to the United States as minors without authorization. Eligible applicants include high school students, high school graduates, those with a GED and those who have served in the military and have no felony convictions or significant misdemeanors.

State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said the issue comes down to accountability and safety. The decision, he said, balances the rights of lawful citizens and those who have a newly accorded lawful status under the DACA program and wish to become citizens.

"They will be able to come in and get a driver's license. We will know who they are," Tata said. "They will have a license. They will have insurance, and it will make our roads safer." 

Mayra Aguilar, a student, said she signed a petition calling for a rule change. With Thursday's decision, she said she will now be eligible for a license.

"I hope to give my daughter a better future, and with this driver's license, I am able to do that," she said.

Those who can provide documentation that they qualify for DACA and for a North Carolina driver's license will receive a license that is marked with an expiration date that coincides with their deferred-action status. The license also will be vertically oriented instead of horizontal, feature a fuschia header instead of navy blue and be stamped with "limited term" and "no lawful status."

From now until March 25, Tata said, license examiners across the state will be specially trained on the new program, and transportation officials will launch a communications campaign that informs DACA applicants on how to apply for a driver's license. Licensing software will also upgraded to produce the special license.

"We are focused on finding solutions to difficult issues," Tata said. "This is the best decision moving forward given the legal requirements we were handed."

In January, the Division of Motor Vehicles canceled the licenses of 13 people who had applied to the DACA program, saying they wanted a legal opinion from the Attorney General's Office on whether issuing the licenses would violate state law.

The Attorney General's Office issued an opinion days later, saying "individuals who present documentation demonstrating a grant of deferred action by the United States government are legally present in the United States and entitled to a driver's license of limited duration, assuming all other criteria are met."

Tata said Thursday that the DMV was acting on decisions made by former Gov. Beverly Perdue's administration in September that were never made public.

"Today is the first time I have made a decision on this policy," Tata said. "Gov. (Pat) McCrory was involved in the decision-making process and supports our way forward."

The Department of Homeland Security decides who qualifies for the DACA program. The program does not change immigrants' legal status, but does give them a temporary legal presence.