RALEIGH — After weeks of protest from civil rights lawyers, immigrant advocates, Democrats and religious leaders, the state Division of Motor Vehicles revealed Thursday that it has removed an unpopular pink stripe from the design of drivers licenses that will be issued, starting next week, to young immigrants in a federal program that postpones their deportation for two years.
The new design reverts to the color scheme of a standard license, with added language in red letters that says: LEGAL PRESENCE / NO LAWFUL STATUS and LIMITED TERM.
A DMV spokesman refused Thursday to discuss or even address the criticism of the original design. He said the change made it easier for the DMV to produce the new licenses more efficiently. The standardized design will be similar to those of other licenses issued for limited duration to groups such as visiting students and agriculture workers.
From our perspective, we wanted to make sure this design would allow for ease of implementation, said Mike Charbonneau, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. By state law, any temporary license must bear a distinguishing mark on the face. So were following the letter of the law in the most efficient way possible.
The license will be available for teens and young adults who were brought into the United States illegally as children, or stayed illegally after their visas expired. State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced in February that they would qualify if they have received work permits in the Obama administrations Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Like the federal work permits, the state licenses will expire in two years.
More than 16,500 teens and young adults in North Carolina have received the deferred-action federal work permits. Immigrants and civil rights lawyers initially cheered Tatas announcement that they would qualify for state drivers licenses, starting Monday.
Weeks of protest
But the praise turned to protest when critics assailed the original pink-stripe design, similar in color to a pink banner on the federal work permit. They said the striped license would open immigrant drivers to racial profiling and other discrimination. They invoked the Holocaust, when Nazis marked Jews with yellow stars.
DMV did not announce Thursday that the license had been redesigned. A facsimile of the new, pink-free version was distributed with guidelines for young immigrants who will visit DMV offices across the state, starting Monday, to apply for drivers licenses.
The federal I-766 employment authorization card or work permit issued for deferred-action participants is marked Category C33. The N.C. Attorney Generals Office said in January that the C33 card establishes legal presence in the state, meeting DMVs requirement for legal residency.
State and federal officials say the deferred-action program establishes that the immigrants have legal presence in the United States during the two years their deportation is postponed. But the program does not change their long-term, lawful status as illegal immigrants.
The pink stripe brought North Carolina a wave of national attention.
Rabbi John Friedman of Durhams Judea Reform Congregation said he had heard from Jewish leaders across the country who warned that North Carolina was becoming a state with a reputation similar to Arizona, which has been greatly divided over immigration.
I dont think these licenses have anything to do with the Holocaust, and Im not saying anybody is a Nazi, Friedman said Thursday before hearing that DMV had removed the pink stripe. But it cannot help but remind Jews of the yellow stars.
Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation, said the new license design was an improvement.
Were happy the Department of Transportation decided to take off the pink border, Pinto said. But he questioned the need to include language stating the driver has legal presence but no lawful status.
Tatas decision in February was affirmed by the Republican governor, Pat McCrory. But a group of freshman Republicans in the General Assembly disagreed. They filed legislation to put a moratorium on issuing the licenses.
One of the sponsors, Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe, said Thursday that he still disagreed with Tatas decision. But he said if the state issues the licenses, it should be respectful of the recipients.
I know the Hispanic community was pretty upset, Brody said. Everybody needs to be treated with respect.
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