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Use common sense on driver’s license issue

Granting N.C. licenses to illegal immigrants benefits all of us

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles wants an opinion from the state attorney general’s office on denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who’ve received federal deferrals from deportation. Attorney General Roy Cooper should provide that opinion without delay, and it should allow those young undocumented immigrants driving privileges.

Indeed, that’s what the N.C. DMV said last summer it would do. Some offices already have. Advocates note that days after being accepted into a program that defers deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a number of deferred recipients got their driver’s licenses at an N.C. DMV office. Advocates are now compiling a list of branches that are granting the licenses and are encouraging youth to continue seeking them.

Issuing the driver’s licenses is the sensible thing for North Carolina to do. Under the deferred deportation program announced last June, the immigrants receive two-year work permits. But denying them a driver’s license can cripple their ability to get and keep a job. Lacey Williams, youth program director at the Latin American Coalition, put it aptly: “I don’t know who they think will benefit to have this class of people who can now work but cannot drive. It just doesn’t make sense.”

It likely would also contribute to a dangerous problem that already exists – illegal immigrants driving without licenses. Several serious – sometimes fatal – accidents have involved just such drivers. Being a licensed N.C. driver is no guarantee that those accidents won’t still occur, but it does ensure that drivers know the rules and can drive well enough to pass the state’s driving tests. N.C. law already prevents illegal immigrants who don’t qualify for the deferred deportation program from getting driver’s licenses. That accounts in part for the current accident problems involving such drivers.

Groups opposed to President Obama’s deportation policy cheered the N.C. DMV move. Ron Woodard, president of N.C. Listen, contends that the program unlawfully grants one group of illegal immigrants amnesty: “Just because our president has done something unlawful doesn’t mean our stat should also do something unlawful,” he said.

But no court has deemed the president’s deferred deportation policy unlawful. As the nation’s chief executive, he can issue such an executive order.

Additionally, most states already allow noncitizens who hold work permits or who are granted deferred action to apply for driver’s licenses, according to the Migration Policy Institute. North Carolina would join only Arizona, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska in denying licenses to deferred action recipients.

North Carolina can look to Illinois for some guidance on this issue. On Friday, its state House passed legislation allowing all illegal immigrants driver’s licenses. Lawmakers called it a public safety issue.

Undocumented immigrants are already driving on N.C. roads. The new deferred deportation program granting many of them permits to work means they will need transportation options. So this is also an issue of common sense. N.C. officials should use theirs in deciding this matter.

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