Driver's licenses a big step forward for immigrants in NC

Monday, March 25, 2013 marked the first day that immigrants without legal status could legally apply for driver's licenses in NC. This is the result of a federal program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program enables people who arrived or stayed illegally in the United States as children to apply for two-year work visas. These individuals are now able to use those work visas as valid indicators of legal presence in the United States.

Getting valid temporary visas or work permits is the first step for people seeking to legally immigrate to the United States and become naturalized citizens. The work permit issued under the DACA program provides proof of legal presence in the state of which the holder of the permit resides. While the obtainment of a work permit for individuals who qualify for DACA does not guarantee lawful permanent residence, deferred action eases the application process for everyday needs like the obtainment of employment authorization or a driver's license in states such as NC.

The benefits of the new driver's license arrangement

Reporters with the Raleigh News & Observer interviewed an 18-year-old boy whose parents immigrated to Siler City, NC more than 20 years ago. He took the written test the day he was legally allowed to apply for a driver's license at the Chatham County DMV office and received a learner's permit. In a few weeks, he plans to go back to the DMV to get his full driver's license and obtain the right to drive unsupervised.

Like most American teenagers, he remarked that the "freedom to do what [he wants]" and "getting out of the house" were his primary motivators for wanting to receive a driver's license. He reported that he has lived in the United States for "as long as [he] can remember." The deferred-action work permit he received enabled him to get a new job at a nearby radio station. He plans to use his car to get to his workplace more easily as well as to visit colleges and begin his career.

Other teenage and young adult drivers plan to use their new driver's licenses to drive their parents around. Parents age 31 or older in the U.S. without lawful status are not eligible to apply for a NC driver's license.

About the new license

The new driver's license will not look like a standard driver's license. The original design of the new license initially had a bright pink strip that labeled the bearer as an unlawful immigrant with "legal presence."

The current license design does not have the pink strip, but it does contain the phrase, "LEGAL PRESENCE NO LAWFUL STATUS" in red lettering. Some critics say that this language is unfair and may cause confusion for police officers and others regularly checking licenses.

NC immigration statistics

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, 410,000 immigrants lived in NC without legal status in 2010. More than 16,500 immigrants applied for the deferred-action work permits across the state. According to the NC DMV, 314 immigrants with deferred-action work permits received learner's permits or driver's licenses on March 25.

If you or a loved one needs to obtain a deferred work permit or has any other immigration issue, an experienced immigration lawyer can provide needed advice.