RALEIGH Dozens of young Latino adults who entered the country illegally as children staged a chilly morning demonstration Tuesday to dramatize their push for drivers licenses under a federal program that allows them to live here legally while deportation is postponed for two years.
The protesters called on state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata to resume issuing licenses to participants in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Some wore graduation caps and gowns to signify that they were college students or high school graduates, requirements of the program announced last summer by the Obama administration.
In Charlotte, about a dozen protesters from United 4 the Dream, youth advocacy group tied to the Latin American Coalition, demonstrated for about 90 minutes Tuesday morning at the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles office on North Tryon Street.
State Attorney General Roy Coopers office issued an opinion last week asserting that work permits issued to DACA participants meet a state law requirement that nonresidents seeking drivers licenses must certify their legal presence in North Carolina. The opinion was sought by the Division of Motor Vehicles, but Tata has not said whether he will comply with the recommendation.
I need a license because I go to community college, 24-year-old Asheville resident Bruno Hinojosa, who is taking business classes and working in a restaurant, said in an interview in Raleigh. I need it to go to the park, to go to the library, to go to restaurants, to eat with my family.
Maria Alejo of Creedmoor, a tobacco field worker, has applied for her DACA work permit and hopes to use it to get a license from DMV.
If I dont get a license, its going to be difficult to get to work, said Alejo, 20.
José Torres, 24, of Carrboro told about 70 demonstrators that he had requested a meeting with Tata.
If Tony Tata intends to keep North Carolina safe and keep drivers safe, then he should have this meeting and issue our drivers licenses immediately, said Torres, who is part of N.C. Dream Team, an advocacy group for young illegal immigrants. If this does not happen, then we will have a real problem. And it will be up to every single one of you to go to the DMV every single day and ask for your drivers licenses.
The issue affects 180,000 young men and women in North Carolina estimated to be candidates for the Obama administrations deferred deportation program. And it has touched off the first immigration policy dispute since Republican Gov. Pat McCrory took office and took charge of DOT this month.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican elected independently of the governor, called Obamas DACA program unlawful and said Saturday that Coopers office was wrong to recommend that DMV make participants eligible for drivers licenses. He said the state should push back when the Feds encroach on our ability to protect our citizens and enforce our laws.
Civil rights advocates are pushing McCrory in the other direction. The Rev. William J. Barber II, state president of the NAACP, said Forests call to oppose the federal program is a form of nullification that is reminiscent of the old South.
No one has authority in this state to undermine a law or an executive order that comes down from the federal government, Barber said Tuesday. This is a civil rights matter. We will stand with our Latino brothers and sisters, shoulder to shoulder, because this is a violation of their constitutional rights.
Ron Woodard of Cary, whose group N.C. LISTEN advocates greater limits on immigration, said DMV should not give licenses to illegal immigrants competing with North Carolinians for jobs.
McCrorys press office did not respond to a request for comment on the attorney generals opinion. DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said it will take the DMV a few days to review that ruling and all its potential implications.