RALEIGH The state Attorney Generals office said Thursday that young illegal immigrants participating in an Obama administration program blocking deportation for two years should be eligible for driving privileges in North Carolina, but by days end it wasnt clear whether the DMV would issue them.
Katy Chavez, a lawyer in Raleigh, said a handful of her clients planned to test the opinion on Friday, seeking licenses at DMV offices throughout the region that allow them to drive legally. Other lawyers eagerly await the results.
I think the DMV is going to have to follow the law, Chavez said.
The legal opinion was intended to end widespread confusion about whether young illegal immigrants who have stepped out of the shadows for a reprieve on deportation have the legal presence necessary for driving privileges. Tony Tata, the new secretary of transportation, said last week that he was awaiting the attorney generals opinion before deciding whether to issue licenses to participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Barack Obama created last year.
Well do whatever the law tells us to do, Tata said in an interview Jan. 11.
But by late Thursday, more than five hours after the opinion was released, acting DMV Commissioner J. Eric Boyette said DMV officials had not formulated their response.
Some granted mistakenly
Some DMV offices in North Carolina had been granting licenses to participants in the DACA program. But shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory and Tata took office this month, Boyette sent letters to some of the immigrants who had received licenses saying their driving privileges would be revoked because they had been granted mistakenly.
A spokeswoman said DMV had issued licenses to only 13 DACA participants, but immigration-rights advocates said they thought hundreds of licenses had been granted to deferred-action participants across the state.
Former DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson said in September that DMV would stop issuing licenses to DACA participants until the attorney general determined whether the young immigrants meet a requirement under North Carolina law to provide documents certifying their legal presence in the state.
The answer, in a three-page letter from Grayson Kelley, the chief deputy attorney general, was yes.
Kelley noted that the Obama administration did not change the unlawful status of illegal immigrants when it granted a two-year reprieve from deportation to participants in the DACA program. Kelley added that his opinion should not be construed as altering that finding.
Tata, who took charge of DMV after McCrorys inauguration, has said he would announce a new DMV commissioner this week.
There was no response from the state Department of Transportation on Thursday to how Kelleys opinion would affect its policies.
Civil-rights advocates urged DMV to comply with the attorney generals opinion.
In light of this clear opinion, the DMV should do the right thing and reinstate its policy of granting licenses to all qualified drivers who have received deferred action, said Raul Pinto, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in Raleigh.
North Carolinas decision to deny licenses put the state in line with Arizona, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska and out of step with such states as California, Texas and Florida, which were granting licenses.