When he was considering what to do about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants given two-year work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from President Obama, North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata was careful to say the confusion about the granting of licenses wasn’t his fault. It all started under the previous governor.
But now, with plans to issue licenses to these younger immigrants, who are going to school and working and trying to better their lives and may hope to gain legal status one day, Tata has ownership of the issue. He agreed to grant licenses for those under the DACA program after state Attorney General Roy Cooper said it was the right thing to do.
That was a hopeful development. But Tata’s Division of Motor Vehicles is turning the license into a badge of shame. It might as well come with a Scarlett Letter. It is fuchsia-colored and brands the holder (who’s going to have it legally, remember) as an exception to the normal license holder in three ways in addition to the color.
The license design says “Limited Term” along the right edge. The words “DEFERRED ACTION” appear as a background graphic in the lower center of the license. The “No Lawful Status” label is across the bottom.
While we might expect demagoguery in politics and popular culture, we should not see it on official documents issued by the government.
No big deal
The fact that DMV agreed to issue these licenses in the first place isn’t any great example of statesmanship or enlightenment. When the state Attorney General issues an opinion that these younger people are entitled to this privilege if they are law-abiding and meet the legal requirements of a federal program, it is difficult for state officials to ignore it.
We had hoped that Secretary Tata, a former superintendent of the Wake County schools, might do the right thing without controversy.
But why this license? The necessary particulars in terms of age, expiration date, etc., need be displayed in no way different from a conventional license. People have valid licenses or they don’t. There is a physical description, birth date, number, all of that.
But here is a “Fuchsia letter.”
There’s some irony here, of course, in that the secretary has time to allow his staff to engage in this foolishness while he names an $85,000-a-year deputy commissioner as head of enforcing the state’s car inspection and registration laws who, as it turns out, had an inspection and registration problem with his own car. The department says appointee Randy H. Dishong has straightened the matter out. When your head of enforcement doesn’t comply with the rules, it’s a bad time to slap a stigma on people who are making extraordinary efforts to follow the law.
Unfortunately, there’s more news on the license front. And it’s almost as embarrassing as the design.
Four freshman Republican state House members have introduced a bill that would put a delay on the issuance of the DACA licenses. So they’d go against an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office, against a decision from the transportation secretary of a Republican governor, and ultimately against a program, a perfectly reasonable and legal program, established by the president of the United States.
Even freshmen ought to have enough to do on Jones Street to keep them out of this kind of mischief.
Although the federal government and advocates for immigrants are still studying the response of states to DACA and the granting of licenses, it is being done in other states and seems likely to increase as more people apply for DACA status.
As McCrory’s own team said, the fact that these people have licenses will make the roads safer, which ought to be a virtuous objective in the eyes of all.
They shouldn’t also need to carry a brand with them everywhere they go.