Although I am not a native of North Carolina, I’ve lived here 13 years. Most days, I do the things many of you do: I shop at local stores, go to work and volunteer several evenings a week in Raleigh. My sons participate in a youth soccer league and my daughter is a competitive cheerleader.
Your family and mine probably have a great deal in common, except for one thing: Each day when I get into my car to drive to work or take my kids to school or a soccer game, I’m breaking the law because I’m driving without a license. As an undocumented resident, current law prohibits me from obtaining a North Carolina’s driver’s license.
This summer, state lawmakers began considering legislation that would allow people like me to apply for driver’s licenses. If the General Assembly passes HB 328, it would give all North Carolinians the opportunity to make our state’s roads safer and reduce insurance premiums. HB 328 is supported by the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police and could be a real opportunity to improve public safety in our state.
If HB 328 passed, North Carolina could follow more than a dozen states that have granted undocumented residents licenses and subsequently seen a reduction in traffic violations – including hit-and-run accidents by uninsured drivers – and better insurance coverage. New Mexico started issuing driving permits in 2003; 10 years later, the number of uninsured vehicles on the state’s roads has been reduced by almost a quarter.
The bill requires a rigorous application process, including a full background check and fingerprinting at my expense. I would also have to buy liability insurance. If undocumented drivers are caught without a license, there are enhanced penalties, which include having their vehicles impounded and having their legal status revealed in court. All successful applicants would have to pass a full written and behind-the-wheel driving test, meaning more drivers would be required to understand the rules of our state’s roads before they get behind the wheel.
For me and the roughly 100,000 undocumented drivers in North Carolina, having a license would be a relief. Earlier this year I received three traffic tickets, not for speeding or reckless driving, but for not having a license. Within three days, I was ticketed twice by the same officer. My story isn’t unique. I’ve spoken to immigrants from across the state who also have been targeted. Immigrants are arrested and detained over tickets, and sometimes deported.
Immigrants from across the state have come together to advocate this bill. Being able to drive without fear outweighs the risk of revealing ourselves as undocumented. Each of us loves our communities. We want to seek the economic opportunities of our fellow North Carolinians, and we want to do it legally.
Like you, we want safer roads in our state and better insurance rates for our neighbors. I want my children to enjoy their favorite activities. Being forced to stay at home because their parents fear driving them to soccer games is no way to spend a childhood. I want to be a responsible driver and follow the laws of this state. I want a better future for my family and all who call North Carolina their home.
Carmen Rodriguez of Raleigh is a volunteer with El Pueblo.