Illegal immigrants push for NC driver's licenses

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2013 


Gaby Cruz, middle (pink cap), of Raleigh, and about 70 other protesters, mostly young Hispanics, march downtown Raleigh Tuesday, January 22, 2013, calling for DMV to resume issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants participating in federal DACA program.


— Dozens of young Latino adults who entered the country illegally as children staged a chilly morning demonstration Tuesday to dramatize their push for driver’s 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.

They chanted, “Transportation, yes! Deportation, no!”

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.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office issued an opinion last week asserting that work permits issued to DACA participants meet a state law requirement that nonresidents seeking driver’s 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. “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 don’t get a license, it’s 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 driver’s 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 driver’s licenses.”

The issue affects 18,000 to 50,000 young men and women in North Carolina estimated to be candidates for the Obama administration’s 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 Obama’s DACA program unlawful and said Saturday that Cooper’s office was wrong to recommend that DMV make participants eligible for driver’s licenses. He said North Carolina 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 Forest’s 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.

“They’re not legally here,” Woodard said. “I don’t see why the state of North Carolina should, in essence, behave the way the federal government is by giving privileges to people who shouldn’t be here.”

McCrory’s press office did not respond to a request for comment on the attorney general’s opinion. DOT spokeswoman Greer Beaty said “it will take the DMV a few days to review that ruling and all its potential implications.”

In its opinion Thursday, Cooper’s office sought to emphasize that a DACA work permit does not alter the “lawful status” of a young immigrant who might eventually be deported, something the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reiterated in website information updated Friday. But it is legal for DACA participants to be here now, for the time being, they said.

“An individual who has received deferred action is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be present in the United States, and is therefore considered by DHS to be lawfully present during the period deferred action is in effect,” the DHS website said. “However, deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual, nor does it excuse any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.”

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or or

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