By Larry Copeland
A North Carolina plan to issue specially marked driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants granted "deferred status" by the Obama administration is stirring controversy and protests.
North Carolina was one of five states - along with Michigan, Iowa, Arizona and Nebraska - that initially said they would not issue licenses to young undocumented immigrants who are part of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Announced last June, the program could allow up to 1.7 million illegal immigrants brought to the USA as children to receive two-year deferments on any deportation proceedings.
Michigan and Iowa both relented in recent weeks and said the immigrants would be issued licenses. Arizona and Nebraska still don't grant licenses to the immigrants.
North Carolina's Department of Transportation announced last month that more than 15,000 Deferred Action applicants could be issued licenses distinguished by a bright pink strip and the words "NO LAWFUL STATUS."
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has called the plan a "pragmatic compromise." His office this week referred questions to the state Department of Transportation.
North Carolina Democrats just introduced a bill requiring that the licenses be no different than others.
Elver Barrios of Charlotte, a sophomore at Johnson C. Smith University who participated in a protest at the Capitol last week, said the proposed licenses pave the way for potential discrimination and police profiling.
"I'm grateful that I'm getting a license, because I will have an ID, something I've never had since I've been here," said Barrios, 22, who says he was brought to the USA eight years ago from Guatemala. "But the fact that they have to single us out, that's what my concern is. It's sort of like telling everybody what my legal status is, when not everybody needs to know that."
Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said she has confirmed that 37 states allow Deferred Action immigrants to apply for driver's licenses. Arizona and Nebraska are thought to be the only states that deny licenses to the Deferred Action immigrants, she said. The law center is suing Arizona, but not Nebraska, she said.
Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Except for those granted deferred status, illegal immigrants in most states are not allowed to get driver's licenses. In January, Illinois became the fourth state - joining Washington, New Mexico and Utah - to allow illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses or driving permits.