Teen petitions NC governor to grant driving privileges to immigrants

ablythe@newsobserver.comFebruary 12, 2013 

— A 17-year-old immigrant who has been unable to get a North Carolina learner’s permit dropped off a petition at the governor’s office Tuesday, seeking a change in state policy on licenses for illegal immigrants allowed to be here under a federal program.

Diana Gonzalez, a high school senior from Burlington who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States when she was 2 years old, is one of thousands of immigrants in the state caught in a vexing limbo.

Gonzalez, although here illegally, has stepped out of the shadows and been granted permission to stay in the country for at least two years through a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals approved by President Barack Obama last June.

In January, Gonzalez went to a state Division of Motor Vehicles office hoping to leave with a learner’s permit. She showed the officials there the paperwork that allowed her to be in the country, but they would not grant her the limited driving privilege she sought.

North Carolina stopped issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients in early January while awaiting an opinion from state Attorney General Roy Cooper. The change came shortly after Gov. Pat McCrory took office.

In mid-January, the state Attorney General’s Office issued a legal opinion on the matter, stating that young immigrants who are “lawfully present” should be eligible for driving privileges.

Tony Tata, the state Secretary of Transportation who was appointed by McCrory, said during his early days in office that he was awaiting the attorney general’s decision and would do “whatever the law tells us.”

But on Tuesday, nearly a month later, Tata told members of the state House and Senate transportation appropriations subcommittees that state Department of Transportation officials still had not decided what to do.

“A few weeks ago we received the attorney general’s opinion, and now we are conducting our due diligence,” Tata said. “We have a responsibility to make the most informed and deliberate decision possible. Once we determine a path forward on this important issue, we will implement a comprehensive effort to communicate that decision and any logistical consideration, should there be any.”

Gonzalez’s petition, bearing 23,500 signatures collected online from people who live in North Carolina and out-of-state, urges the governor to support issuing licenses to qualified immigrants who want to drive safely and legally in the state.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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