North Carolina is preparing to issue a distinctive driver’s license to young illegal immigrants who have been granted federal protection from deportation for two years. A mockup of the license, provided by the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, displays the words “No Lawful Status” in stark, red letters, along with “Limited Term” on the side of the license. In case the message isn’t clear enough, the “State of North Carolina” bar across the top is a bold, bright pink.
Critics of the license say it will stigmatize immigrants who’ve been granted “deferred action” status by the Obama administration – meaning their presence in the U.S. is temporary but legal. People who see the license – such as bartenders or grocer checkout clerks – might not know the difference between lawful status and legal presence, and that misunderstanding might lead to unnecessary trouble.
Defenders of the license, the first of its kind in the country, say the markings and the pink ensure against misuse. But those defenders, including Gov. Pat McCrory, have been scant with examples of how illegal immigrants might wrongfully use a regular-looking license.
So we asked the people who might know best.
How does law enforcement benefit from having deferred action immigrants carry around a distinctive driver’s license?
Pamela Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety and State Highway Patrol, was the first to offer a possibility. “The new color-coded bar serves as a reminder to our law enforcement that there is a specific time limitation to that particular driver’s license,” she said, in an email. That information, however, already is displayed with the license’s expiration date, and Walker was unable to explain what specific value the knowledge provided state troopers, anyway.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police were next to respond, via a statement from spokesperson Rob Tufano. “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department would prefer that all members of our community have proper identification and/or a driver’s license at all times,” he said. “This will enable the department to properly identify members of our community.”
We agree. All drivers should have a license, and granting licenses to these illegal immigrants helps ensure that drivers know the rules and can drive well enough to pass North Carolina’s driving tests. That’s good for everyone’s safety.
But a pink, “No Lawful Status” license? We asked the N.C. Attorney General’s office, finally, to help us understand. Spokesperson Noelle Talley responded, saying that the people we already contacted, state troopers and local police, would be the best folks to answer the question. Talley did note that the attorney general’s office had no role in the license design.
The verdict: There’s no apparent, specific law enforcement benefit to the new licenses. They appear instead to be a vindictive slap at immigrants who are allowed to be here, a middle school response to satisfy Republicans who didn’t want the licenses issued at all.
We expect the pink licenses won’t deter immigrants from their long-awaited chance to drive legally, and we hope no further trouble springs from this government-issued scarlet letter. It’s a decision, however, that benefits no one, including an administration that unnecessarily, but proudly, looks mean.