North Carolina Will Grant Driver's Licenses to Young Illegal Immigrants

North Carolina will become the ninth state to grant driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants, the state's transportation secretary announced Feb. 14.
by | February 15, 2013

Thousands of young illegal immigrants in North Carolina may obtain government-issued photo IDs and driver licenses because of a change in policy Feb. 14 by the state transportation secretary.

North Carolina is the newest state to grant driver’s licenses to young immigrants who meet certain qualifications related to age, education, non-criminal status and military service under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The state Department of Motor Vehicles will issue licenses starting on March 25, officials said.

North Carolina’s reaction to the federal deferred action policy fits with the general trend for states this year, said Ann Morse, director of the Immigrant Policy Project at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Before President Barack Obama’s deferred action memo last July, two states granted driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants: Washington and New Mexico. Utah granted a driving privilege card.

So far, governors in three states have said the new federal policy will not alter their bans on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants: Arizona, Nebraska and Iowa. New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez has said she wants reverse New Mexico’s position, which currently hands out driver’s licenses without proof of legal immigration status.

Besides North Carolina, another eight states have announced through administrative offices that they will issue photo IDs and driver’s licenses to those protected under the deferred-action policy: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan. Another two have passed state laws to the same effect: Illinois and California.

A dozen states are considering bills to address the driver’s license question. In some cases, such as California, an actual state law would be necessary to eliminate a state requirement for driver’s license holders to have a valid social security number, Morse said.

In North Carolina, between 18,000 and 50,000 young adults and teenagers could qualify for driver’s licenses under their deferral status, according to the The News and Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The decision by the transportation secretary came after the North Carolina Attorney General examined state law and determined that people exempted from deportation under Obama’s executive order have a “legal presence.”

Proponents of the policy say granting the driver’s licenses promotes public safety by guaranteeing immigrants are trained and insured. Detractors say it makes their state a magnet for illegal immigration and defrauds state governments.

The granting of state driver’s licenses is just one of many government benefits being debated in states in the larger conversation about immigration reform. State legislatures are also wrestling with whether to grant financial aid and in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants applying to college. At the same time, Congress is currently considering several proposals to enhance border security, create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and modify the legal immigration system, including the visa process for high-skilled workers.

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