RALEIGH, N.C. -- The state Division of Motor Vehicles will comply with a state attorney generals opinion and issue drivers licenses to thousands of young illegal immigrants who are eligible to drive because of a federal program that gives them temporary protection from deportation, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Thursday.
We must balance the public safety and rights of citizens who have lawful status, with the newly accorded status of those who are legally present and wish to become citizens, Tata said at a news conference.
Attorney General Roy Coopers office said Jan. 17 that participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program qualify for licenses because they are given work permits that prove their legal presence in North Carolina. That means they meet requirements set by state law for drivers who are not U.S. citizens.
On March 25, DMV offices will begin issuing licenses to DACA participants who pass tests and provide documentation. Tata said it would take time to train license examiners and make computer software changes necessary to produce the new licenses.
The issue affects teenagers and young adults estimated at 18,000 to 50,000 in North Carolina who were brought to the United States illegally as children. President Barack Obamas DACA program provides two-year work permits and a deferral of deportation for young immigrants who meet certain requirements that involve age and education or military service.
The licenses will be printed with the same expiration dates shown on the drivers DACA work permits, Tata said, most of them for two years or less.
He was flanked by a dozen state and local law-enforcement officers. A few of them said the decision to issue the licenses would promote public safety.
We wanted something where they could show us that they are eligible to drive and can do it safely, Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes said. This is something law enforcement has needed. This is all about safety for us. This is about knowing who we are dealing with.
Its going to eliminate a lot of chaos
Tata said he also had consulted Gov. Pat McCrory, department lawyers and Hispanic and immigrant advocates as he decided how to respond to the attorney generals legal advice.
The Rev. Carlos A. Cortez of Knightdale, pastor of the Primera Asamblea de Dios, thanked Tata.
I just want to express our great appreciation for simply being the man you are, and to all who are collaborating with you in getting this done, Cortez said at the news conference. Its going to eliminate a lot of chaos in our community.
Raul Pinto, a Raleigh-based lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, wasnt happy that young immigrants will have to wait six weeks to begin receiving licenses. But he endorsed Tatas decision.
It will benefit productive members of our community who have been going to school, going to work, Pinto said. So its an important decision.
Jess George, executive director of the Charlotte-based Latin American Coalition, called the license decision a shining example of how access and opportunity benefits all of our communities and the state as a whole.
In January, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest blasted Obamas program and the attorney generals opinion supporting licenses for DACA participants. Forest did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.