Young illegal immigrants who stepped out of the shadows to win a two-year reprieve from deportation under a fledgling federal program got dark news this week from the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
The state agency that grants driving privileges sent letters out to immigrants in the program who had received drivers licenses that their privileges were being revoked.
Lucy Torres, a 22-year-old Fuquay-Varina resident, found out in August that she had won a two-year reprieve from deportation under the Obama administration program created last year to help a generation of illegal immigrants who grew up in the U.S. She had come to North Carolina from Mexico in 2000 and was eager to work, live and drive in the community she had long considered home without worrying about deportation. She got a drivers license in December, which she uses to travel from her home in Fuquay-Varina to her job in Raleigh.
But on Monday, she received a letter from DMV, dated Friday, that included the names of Gov. Pat McCrory and his new transportation secretary Tony Tata. The name of Joseph Eric Boyette, a DMV commissioner, was listed as the sender of the news.
Effective immediately, your North Carolina driving privilege has been cancelled ... due to not providing acceptable immigration documentation, the letter stated. Upon obtaining valid unexpired immigration documents that reflect lawful presence in the United States, you may reapply for a North Carolina driver license or administration card.
The letter comes amid a wave of confusion about North Carolinas stance on whether participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have legal status and therefore are eligible for driving privileges. Last week, news spread quickly among immigration-rights advocates that North Carolina had stopped issuing drivers licenses to the federal programs participants, who came to this country before they were 16, are still younger than 30, and have not been in trouble with the law.
With the new federal status comes the ability to get a Social Security number, which makes it easier to work or go to school.
Some of the early recipients in North Carolina immediately took their new documents to drivers license bureaus across the state, and some were granted privileges to drive.
Late last week, though, DMV acknowledged that it planned to stop issuing drivers licenses pending a ruling from state Attorney General Roy Cooper on whether the estimated 180,000 young men and women in this state who are eligible for the federal program are also eligible to drive under state law.
The idea of an attorney generals ruling originated during the administration of former Gov. Bev Perdue and was requested by former DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson shortly before he retired in October.
Cooper has not revealed when he might issue that opinion.
Marge Howell, a DMV spokeswoman, said Tuesday that an internal review of DMVs records revealed that 13 licenses had been unintentionally issued to applicants in the federal program before federal database updates were complete. Local immigration attorneys say they think more than 13 licenses have been issued, but dont have a firm number.
To maintain consistency of policy, the DMV mailed notification to these applicants on Jan. 11 letting them know their licenses were issued in error, therefore their driving privileges have been cancelled, Howell said in a statement.
The decision to revoke driving privileges disappointed Isabel Barbarin, a Durham attorney who represented Torres.
Revoking driving privileges is unlikely to keep participants in the immigration program off the roads, Barbarin said.
Instead it will add drivers who are not familiar with North Carolina road rules, and make it so they cannot get insurance.
To me, its an issue of public safety, Barbarin said.