RALEIGH — As national Republicans map out strategies to win over Hispanics, Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly are appealing to Gov. Pat McCrory to reach out to DREAMers on his home turf.
Three weeks before the state is scheduled to begin issuing distinctive drivers licenses to illegal immigrants in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Democrats in the state legislature gathered with religious leaders in the N.C. Legislative Building to call for a ban on the different look.
On March 25, young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, but have been granted lawful presence for two years by the federal government, may seek driving privileges from the state Division of Motor Vehicles. The license will have a bold pink stripe across the top and the phrase NO LAWFUL STATUS in capital red letters down the side.
Democratic Reps. Paul Leubke of Durham, Rick Glazier of Fayetteville, Rosa Gill of Raleigh and Deb McManus of Siler City introduced a bill last week to prohibit the immigrants licenses from being distinguishable from other licenses.
Glazier called the distinctive design shameful and cruel. Leubke called the pink licenses a disgrace. Gill called them signs of discrimination that could leave deep, scarring wounds for young people who have stepped out from the shadows with the hope of living, working and going to school in the communities they consider home.
McCrory, who did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, said a week ago in Washington that he signed off on the licenses, described by some as a modern-day scarlet letter. He told a reporter there that he thought it was important that the licenses clearly distinguished between legal presence versus legal status.
Jose Rico, a 2008 graduate of Millbrook High School in Raleigh who is in the federal program that blocks deportation and grants a two-year work permit, said he worried the license could lead to further racial profiling.
I do feel discriminated against, Rico said. Now they have given us drivers licenses with a scarlet letter.
Some Republicans have introduced a bill that would put a moratorium on issuing licenses at all to the young immigrants with temporary legal presence. The state House Republicans contended that Tony Tata, the state secretary of transportation, overstepped his authority by saying the Division of Motor Vehicles would offer driving privileges. The state attorney general stated earlier that he thought the deferred-action participants should be eligible for licenses if they passed the tests and provided the proper documents.
North Carolina, according to state legislators, is the only state that would issue distinctive licenses to the candidates.
In protest of the different designs and in a show of solidarity with the young DREAMers who soon will be eligible to have driving privileges in North Carolina, religious leaders and others have placed a pink strip of tape on their licenses. The Rev. Jill Edens, co-pastor of United Church of Chapel Hill, said some of her congregation members were particularly offended by the color pink.
In Arizona, where law-enforcement targeting of Latinos prompted a federal investigation, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio became a brash-talking embodiment of the immigration debate and was sued for being particularly cruel for, among other things, forcing inmates to wear pink underwear.
Whether or not the pink stripe on the NC license was intentional, Edens said, it sends the wrong message to the Hispanic community.
More than 15,600 people in North Carolina have been accepted to the federal program announced in June. An estimated 18,000 are eligible. Nationally, the overwhelming majority of participants in the national program are from Mexico, according to federal statistics.
The national Republican party is going to great efforts to get closer to the Latino community, Leubke, a Democrat, said after the news conference on Monday. Here in North Carolina, our governor appears to be out of step. With one statement, he could be back on track with other Republican leaders. He can correct this by stopping it.