Clergy, others protest distinctive license for deferred-deportation drivers

mschultz@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2013 

  • The Story So Far

    N.C. Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced last month that licenses would be issued to participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

    The program grants a two-year work permit to illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, are not older than 30, and are high school graduates, attend college or have served in the military.

    More than 15,600 people in North Carolina have been accepted to the federal program announced in June. An estimated 18,000 in the state are eligible.

— Priscilla Webster-Williams tore off a piece of pink tape and folded it over her driver’s license.

The Durham resident was one of dozens who stopped in the lobby of United Church of Chapel Hill to protest the state’s plan to give new, distinctive licenses to young immigrants with temporary protection from deportation. Beginning later this month, these licenses will bear a pink stripe and the words “No Lawful Status.”

“I think it’s divisive and could separate people, and cause people to feel excluded,” Webster-Williams said.

On Sunday, three Christian ministers, a rabbi and a representative from the N.C. Council of Churches joined state Rep. Paul Luebke at a news conference at the church. They denounced the driver’s license plan – designed to make the bearers’ citizenship status clear – and promoted legislation that would counter it.

House Bill 184, submitted Thursday by Luebke, and Reps. Rick Glazier, Rosa Gill and Deb McManus, says licenses of limited duration “shall not be distinguishable in any manner from other licenses.”

Luebke said such licenses could list the expiration date as the end of the driver’s two-year work permit under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Critics have called the pink stripe a modern Scarlet Letter.

For many Jewish people, Rabbi John Friedman said, it recalls a more sinister symbol.

Friedman heard an “audible gasp” Friday night when he told members of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham about the new licenses.

The pink design recalled memories of the yellow star the Nazis made Jewish people wear during the Holocaust, he said.

“The amazing thing to me is that Gov. McCrory would not have had the historical sensitivity to realize what this would evoke in people,” Friedman said. “Wasn’t this so obvious?”

Last week, McCrory called the new licenses “a very sound resolution” to the conflict between those who wanted no licenses for illegal immigrants and those who wanted an exception made for those in the deferred deportation program.

The governor said he thought it was important that licenses distinguish “between legal presence versus legal status.”

The Rev. David Mateo of Iglesia Unida de Cristo in Chapel Hill said four or five young people in his 70-member congregation have applied for the federal program.

For them, the pink stripe will mean “it’s not (just) a driver’s license anymore.”

“The card is your proof of identity,” he said. “And if the proof is labeled by a color it makes you different from other people.”

Luebke said he does not think the opponents’ bill will pass in the Republican-controlled House, but hopes it gets a hearing.

“There is no other state that has done this or is contemplating this action,” he said. “For the four of us, it was really outrageous.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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