The ACLU and Justice Center announced Monday that they want North Carolina officials to reinstate licenses for young immigrants with work permits.
In a Jan. 11 letter, the two civil rights organizations urged the North Carolina Attorney Generals office to advise the DMV to continue to issue drivers licenses to deferred action recipients.
Such individuals are legally present in the United States and are eligible to obtain all DMV-required documentation, including Social Security numbers and employment authorization, the letter notes.
"North Carolina should not be going down the same path as Arizona where these young immigrants are concerned, said Kate Woomer-Deters, a managing attorney with the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project North Carolina at the North Carolina Justice Center, in a statement.
After first indicating it would grant drivers licenses to young illegal immigrants who have received two-year deferrals from deportation, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles now says it will not allow them to drive until the agency receives a legal opinion that requires it to do otherwise.
North Carolina joins Arizona, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska in denying drivers licenses to deferred action recipients, while other states such as California, Texas and Florida are allowing the licenses. The patchwork pattern shows how states continue to grapple with how to respond to federal policy on immigration.
The decision, which could affect 18,000 North Carolina immigrants, has sent a wave of anxiety across the Tar Heel state.
The Obama administration announced plans in June to prevent the deportations of an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. More than 350,000 already have applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which blocks deportation and grants a two-year work permit to undocumented youths who came to the United States before they turned 16, are not older than 30, and are high school graduates, attending college or have served in the military.
The question of allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses has long been source of contention across the states.
Proponents of allowing the licenses charge that its better to have licensed drivers on the road and that illegal immigrants will drive regardless of whether they have a license in order to work. Critics, however, argue that granting drivers licenses is another incentive for higher illegal immigration.
Groups that promote greater immigration enforcement applauded the North Carolina DMVs decision not to provide drivers licenses to people here illegally.
But perspectives may be changing. Two-thirds of voters in the Nov. 6 election said undocumented immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, according to exit polls. Only about one in three said they should be deported.
While each state sets its own drivers license policy, most allow noncitizens who hold work permits or who are granted deferred action to apply for drivers licenses, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
North Carolinas denial of drivers licenses to people who meet all DMV requirements raises serious constitutional concerns, said Raul Pinto, ACLU-NCLF staff attorney, in a statement. We hope officials do the right thing and continue to grant licenses to all drivers who qualify. It makes no sense to say that people authorized to live and work in the United States should not be allowed to drive.