There is no line

By Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications

One of the main points in President Obama’s immigration reform platform is that undocumented immigrants in the United States must go “to the back of the line” before they can earn their citizenship. Any time someone brings up that immigration line, I think of a great tweet I read once by immigration rights attorney Ben Winogrand:

Rule of thumb: people who say the undocumented should just “get in line” have no familiarity whatsoever with our immigration laws So what’s the deal with this line?

The truth is there is no line for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States right now. And this revelatory article from the Immigration Policy Center lays it all out.


Scarlet Letter licenses? Give me one, too.

By Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center

Dear Mr. Tata,

Please consider this letter my application for a driver’s license.

Yes, I already have a North Carolina driver’s license. But if current policy remains unchanged, I will feel wrong about using it, and I will want a different kind of license.

The Department of Motor Vehicles was advised earlier this year that it was legally obligated to provide driver’s licenses for undocumented youth. These immigrant youth, eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, were brought here as children and as a result lack official legal status. While federal officials work on a long-overdue fix to our broken immigration system, it makes sense to follow the law and promote safety on our state’s roads by permitting these young people to apply for licenses.

Thankfully, the DMV chose to do so, and I’m grateful for this.

What I’m not grateful for is the inexplicable decision to issue a different driver’s license – one that seems intended to shame and stigmatize immigrant youth.

On March 25, DMV will beginning issuing licenses with a high-profile pink banner and bright red letters that say “NO LAWFUL STATUS” and “LIMITED TERM.”

Let’s be honest. There’s no legal or practical reason to do this. This move is merely intended to affix a virtual scarlet letter to young people who just want to do the right thing and be a part of the system. They need licenses for the same reason we all do: to go to school, to go to work, to get groceries, to help family members.

And for these simple human needs, we’re going to force them to take a document that smacks of discrimination? This isn’t right, and it isn’t just, and it isn’t necessary.

But if DMV insists on issuing these petty, divisive licenses later this month, I can think of only one way to take the discriminatory sting out. That’s if a large number of other North Carolinians demand they be issued the pink licenses as well.

This is my formal application for my DACA license. If you’re going to give them to my friends, my neighbors, the people I know and trust in my community, you’re going to have to give one to me, too.

I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a political statement. It is. But the request for a different license is quite literal and sincere. If driver’s licenses are being used to shame and stigmatize my friends and neighbors, how can I feel good about carrying one around in my wallet?

To be clear, I’d prefer not to have to ask for this. I’d prefer for our state agencies to follow legal guidance to issue driver’s licenses without spite. I’d prefer those state agencies, which are intended to serve all of us, to treat all of us with equal respect.

If that’s not going to happen from the top, though, it has to happen from bottom. Maybe all of us demanding to have our own pink licenses is the way to go.

So, when should I expect mine?

This is a guest post from Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications at the NC Justice Center. It originally appeared on the NC Policy Watch blog.

CineMás: A Beginning

By Jaime Villegas, Cultural Events Assistant

The seed for CineMás sprouted from the depths of some of the most creative brains here at the Latin American Coalition. It’s a project that has been in development for three years but was just looking for the right vehicle to launch it. With Charlotte’s already expansive and diverse event catalog, the challenge was how to create something that differentiated CineMás from existing film series. It had to bring fresh films that haven’t made their way to the United States and at the same time bring all of Charlotte’s wonderful neighborhoods together. From the beginning, the mission was to highlight the passionate talent that comes from Latin American countries, that tends to linger in the shadows waiting for their big break in the States.

When Tony, our Cultural Events Director, came to me with the idea I fell in love with it and immediately wanted to get started on the project. Like any new venture, there is a lot of groundwork and planning involved. Brainstorming sessions were very popular during those few weeks and little by little the pieces of the puzzle came together. Within the first sessions, CineMás began to take form and we had secured our first film, location, and date.

With CineMás, the objective is to create a setting where curious minds can meet and exchange ideas after watching a film they can connect with on a personal level. To engage in conversations about our similarities rather than our differences. I want to reignite people’s love for foreign films that know is still there. There is so much talent and passion from our Latin American neighbors that hasn’t been acknowledged or praised. I hope to shine a bright light on those actors, directors, and screenwriters that lead those dramas, comedies, and documentaries that I hope the Charlotte community will come to love.

This film series, as it has come to be known around the office, has become my baby and I never thought that my passion for films would lead to this. I am eternally grateful to my wonderful colleagues at the Coalition that have mentored and guided me through our endeavor. On Thursday, March 14, 2013 we will proudly launch CineMás and premiere with El Regreso at 7:00 p.m. We hope to see you all there!

North Carolina to Offer ‘Scarlet Letter’ Pink Licenses

By Lacey Williams, Youth Programs Director

What Are Pink Licenses?

  • In August 2012, the Federal Government began granting Deferred Action to some undocumented young people in our state. Deferred Action gives some undocumented immigrants, brought here as children, a work permit and a reprieve from deportation.
  • Historically, immigrants with Deferred Action have been able to obtain North Carolina driver’s licenses.
  • The NC DMV has spent months deciding how to issue driver’s licenses to Deferred Action recipients, licenses it has historically issued with no problem, even halting issuing licenses and soliciting the opinion of the NC Attorney General.
  • After the Attorney General concluded that licenses should be given, the NC DMV rolled out a ‘pink’ license that displays the recipient’s immigration status.
  • The NC DMV admitted to the Winston-Salem Journal that it plans to issue similarly designed licenses for ALL non-citizens in North Carolina.

Why Are Pink Licenses Wrong for North Carolina?

Cost > North Carolina is in a financial crisis, yet the state government is spending untold amounts of taxpayer money on developing a new license, and the bureaucracy, trainings and materials needed to implement it.

Discrimination >  Licenses that look distinctly different and prominently display immigration status open the door to discrimination and are a violation of privacy. Does the grocery store cashier need to know someone’s immigration status when carding a person for beer?  Does the bank teller? The pink stripe on the top literally becomes a modern day ‘scarlet letter’ for immigrants.

Slippery slope > The DMV has justified distinct licenses by stating “you would know that someone who has the pink bar at the top, they do not have the right to vote.” Who else will be issued a pink license? Felons? Drivers under 18?

Us vs. Them > Immigrants have been obtaining licenses in North Carolina for a long time.  Deferred Action has been a tool of the immigration court long before Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Making a distinction between immigrants and citizens on NC licenses creates an Us vs Them climate and it is nothing more than a political trick. We won’t fall for it.

What can you do?

Sign the petition telling Secretary of Transportation Anthony Tata that the pink drivers licenses are a modern-day scarlet letter for DACA-recipients and all non-citizens in North Carolina.

File a complaint with the Department of Transportation by calling (919) 707-2800 and let them know that pink licenses are the modern-day scarlet letter for all immigrants in our state.

Not Pretty in Pink

By Jess George, Executive Director

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION HERE! The pink drivers licenses are a modern-day scarlet letter for DACA-recipients and all non-citizens in North Carolina. We demand that the NC DMV issue the same licenses to all North Carolinians.


In August 2012, the Federal Government launched Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers some undocumented young immigrants, brought to the U.S. as children, a work permit and a reprieve from deportation. The reasoning? These young people, who are American in every way except on paper, should be able to work, go to school, and drive legally in this country without fear of deportation.

This policy change restored the American dream for nearly one million young people and was the beginning of a bipartisan push for immigration reform at the national level.

Since the November elections, the national headlines have been filled with hopeful yet realistic messages from both parties about the importance of federal comprehensive immigration reform. There appears to be national consensus which recognizes that adjusting the status of undocumented immigrants currently working, studying, and paying taxes in our community is the ethically just and economically smart thing to do.

However, North Carolina has decided to buck the national trend of pragmatism in exchange for a new way to stigmatize and shame immigrants.

Rather than expediting the drivers license process for young immigrant students and workers, the North Carolina DMV spent months deciding if and how it should issue driver’s licenses to Deferred Action recipients- licenses it has historically issued without trouble. Now the NC DMV has rolled out a new ‘pink’ license that displays the recipient’s immigration status- reading in bold red letters NO LAWFUL STATUS.

Apparently these pink licenses will not just be for Deferred Action recipients. The NC DMV admitted to the Winston-Salem Journal that it plans to issue similar licenses for ALL non-citizens in North Carolina. That’s right- legal permanent residents, immigrants on student and work visas, folks who are here with Temporary Protective Status- may soon carry licenses that clearly distinguish them as non-citizens.

It is hard to fathom why policy makers, who are acutely aware of North Carolina’s financial crisis, would justify spending untold amounts of taxpayer dollars on developing a new license, and the subsequent bureaucracy, training, and materials required to implement it. A spokesperson from the DMV revealed one possible motivation by stating, “you would know that someone who has the pink bar at the top, they do not have the right to vote.” If the new licenses for non-citizens are being created as a proxy for a voter ID, the implications extend far beyond immigrants. In coming months, who else will be issued a different license? Felons? Drivers under 18?

Furthermore, these new driver’s licenses feel like a modern day scarlet letter- publicly marking people as different or even second-class. Distinct licenses that prominently display immigration status open the door to discrimination and are a violation of privacy.  Does the grocery store cashier need to know someone’s immigration status? Does the bank teller?

Immigrants have been receiving licenses in North Carolina for a long time. Making a distinction between immigrants and citizens on NC licenses creates an ugly “us vs. them” climate that only divides our communities. It appears that policy makers have allowed their fear of difference guide them to create myopic and discriminatory policies without thought to the financial and perhaps legal consequences.

Let’s be honest North Carolina, pink just isn’t our color.


PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION HERE! The pink drivers licenses are a modern-day scarlet letter for DACA-recipients and all non-citizens in North Carolina. We demand that the NC DMV issue the same licenses to all North Carolinians.

On North Carolina drivers licenses for DACA recipients

By Ramon Garibaldo and Luisa Donoso, United 4 The Dream

We are grateful that North Carolina will once again start issuing licenses to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Having a driver’s license is crucial for the lives of many young people; they not only grant the right to drive a vehicle but also serve as the main form of ID to grant access to countless places, job opportunities, and activities.

However, we are shocked and appalled at the way these licenses are being issued. The format of the license design and class is completely discriminatory and untrue. The alarming pink highlight as well the vertical format- a format usually reserved for minors- can and will cause great difficulties for those who are of age and needing entry to various services and places.

The presence of the phrase “Deferred Action” is inconvenient because it reveals a person’s former legal status and violates their right to privacy. In the same manner, the use of the term “NO LAWFUL STATUS” on the licenses is completely unnecessary. We are afraid that the presence of these two phrases will lead to discrimination against DACA recipients as well as harassment from law-enforcement authorities.

It is worth mentioning that North Carolina is the only state in the country that has ever issued this type of license. Although deferred action has been given to other immigrants in the past, this is the first time that a state has created a license specifying a person’s immigration status. Individuals with deferred action have historically been allowed to have regular driver’s licenses. This shows that the issuing of this type of licenses is not just a “formal procedure.” The way these licenses have been issued is a direct attack on the immigrant community in North Carolina and the DACA policy that was recently put into place.

Lastly, it baffles us that rather than using its resources for other much-needed programs, the current state administration is making use of taxpayer money to create a new license class with a discriminatory message regarding a group of individuals who have grown up in and contributed to the growth of the state of North Carolina. This new license puts more obstacles in front of many young immigrants, creating a class of “inferior” citizens.

Tuition Equality: Good for our students, good for our state

The campaign for tuition equality in North Carolina begins today with the launch of Let’s Learn NC. Let’s Learn NC is all about fairness, opportunity and equal access to education. The statewide campaign advocates for the same college tuition for all North Carolina students, because higher education should be equally accessible to all of our state’s young people. Currently, undocumented students are charged out-of-state tuition- which is four times higher than in-state tuition- even if they meet the same academic and residency requirements as other students (including a physical presence in NC for 12 continuous months). Out-of-state tuition rates make higher education a virtual impossibility for many qualified NC students.

One state, one rate: College tuition should be the same for all NC students.
The residency requirement should be applied equally. Higher education should be equally accessible for all of our state’s students. This is about basic fairness and common sense. Right now, a student who moves from Rhode Island a year before graduating high school is eligible for in-state tuition to North Carolina’s community colleges and public universities. Undocumented students are charged out of state tuition- even if they have studied in NC schools from kindergarten until their high school graduation.

When all NC students are allowed to learn, we all win.
Enabling all students to attend college will strengthen our future tax base. Granting equal tuition for NC students to attend state colleges and universities will provide an opportunity to young people who have grown up in North Carolina, and been educated in NC public schools to continue their education while also allowing our state to have access to the long-term economic benefits that these students can provide as a highly educated and bilingual workforce. We must invest in the future of NC and the people who live, work, raise families and pay taxes here. Denying certain NC students in-state tuition is a self-defeating mistake.

These are qualified North Carolina students, ready for college and ready for the workforce.
These are high achieving and highly motivated high school students who have attended elementary and secondary schools in this state for most of their lives and who are likely to remain in the state. According to the law, any student in North Carolina is entitled to a public school education until the 12th grade, meaning that our state has already invested significantly in their education. By allowing our young people to pursue higher education, the state can benefit from students who are bilingual and bicultural and who are able to contribute to the state’s collective productivity and economic growth. Our students want to learn, achieve, and contribute to North Carolina- let’s let them!

This is an economic development issue.
North Carolina’s state and local governments, businesses, and industry are currently recruiting college graduates from outside the state, as well as outside the US, to fill shortages in the fields of business, education, and health services. We can benefit from students who are already here and who have already been educated in the NC school system. All residents must have the opportunity to move up the economic ladder and become self-sufficient engines of the NC economy. Access to our state’s colleges will prepare an educated workforce that will increase the state’s collective productivity and strengthen economic growth.

Find our more and get involved in Let’s Learn N

Lawmakers and first steps with immigration reform in 2013

By Armando Bellmas

The Latin American Coalition is optimistic about the plans for immigration reform released this week by both the U.S. Senate and President Obama, setting the stage for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in our communities. While the remarks from both the Senators and the President are steps in a positive direction, we have some very serious concerns.

Immigration reform is about keeping families together, first and foremost. This ultimate goal is not mentioned in either framework. Families across the country are being torn apart by our country’s current patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies. President Obama’s administration alone has separated more parents from their children through deportation than any other administration. The moral case for immigration reform is overwhelming and getting louder.

Making a path to citizenship contingent on any type of border security and increased enforcement is unnecessary. The United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement and border security than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and ATF. The past 10 years have seen unprecedented and overwhelming increases in the number of border patrol agents, border wall construction, unmanned aerial vehicles and border militarization. Such vigorous enforcement and security, coupled with President Obama’s sharp increase in removals, have decreased undocumented migration into the U.S. Any plan linking citizenship to border security and more enforcement is mere political posturing.

A plan for immigration reform must fairly and equally include the “world’s best and brightest” who receive a PhD or Master’s degree in American universities to the low-skilled, but extremely valuable immigrants who perform the very important and difficult work that Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do. Most of these people have worked very hard for many years and have contributed so much to our economy to earn a path to citizenship. Forcing them to the “back of the line”- an immigration line that, frankly, doesn’t exist– is deferring the details instead of dealing with them now.

A clear and realistic path to citizenship- more fair than tough- will be far more effective in reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants than billions spent on punitive enforcement measures. 2013 must be the year that Congress will pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans. This is because the American people support it; Democrats want it; and Republicans need it. And our movement- which gets stronger every day- stands ready to make sure it happens. This is the right thing to do for the country, and now is the time.

¡Ya es hora!

A driving test for the McCrory administration

By Clayton Henkel, NC Policy Watch/ NC Justice Center

A week after the North Carolina Attorney General’s office said young immigrants who are “lawfully present” to be here are qualified to receive driver’s licenses, the matter is still under review by the state Transportation Department.

The delay has editorial boards chiming-in with a unified voice – that it’s time for the McCrory administration to end the foot-dragging.

The Charlotte Observer writes this morning:

‘As governor of a state that’s neither decidedly red nor blue, Pat McCrory is going to spend much of the next four years being tugged at by starkly disparate perspectives on issues. The first such test of his administration has already presented itself: Should North Carolina issue driver’s licenses to [undocumented] immigrants who are participants in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?’

‘…it leaves McCrory with a choice. He can take the sensible route, acknowledge that no one has declared deferred action status unlawful, and order the DMV to issue the driver’s licenses. Or he can side with the unreasonable voices who don’t want to give an inch on illegal immigration. The decision McCrory makes will offer a clue about what kind of North Carolina we’ll all live in for the next four years.’

The Winston-Salem Journal puts it more succinctly:

‘Gov. Pat McCrory and his commissioner of motor vehicles have a clear choice regarding driver’s licenses for non-citizens who hold valid working papers: They can posture politically to appease their political base or they can obey the law.’

And finally The Durham Herald-Sun puts the issue squarely on the shoulders of Transportation Sec. Tony Tata:

‘New Transportation Secretary Tony Tata has not yet said whether he will instruct DMV to comply with that ruling.

He should. Republicans nationally are recognizing that a more generous approach to immigration reform is in the party’s best interests politically – Tata has an opportunity to acknowledge that in this instance.’

You can read the full editorials here, here, and here.

This is a guest post from Clayton Henkel, Communications Coordinator for NC Policy Watch and the NC Justice Center. It originally appeared on the NC Policy Watch blog, The Progressive Pulse.

Laugh to Keep From Crying

By Jess George, Executive Director

Last Friday was an exciting day. We got two hate mail letters.

We are no strangers to hate mail at the Latin American Coalition. In fact we often make opening hate mail a sort of office ceremony- a production where we all gather round as I read the terrible, ugly and grammatically incorrect contents.

The words are often disturbing, but we find humor in the strangest places.

For one, we laugh about the stamps. There is something funny about a letter that contains a long, racist and vitriolic rant, topped with a stamp that features a jolly Disney character or one that proclaims “Buy local produce, reuse bags!” We couldn’t stop giggling when one letter, signed by the “Arayan Nation” (sic), was mailed with a Black History month stamp. And we never tire of the beautiful yet simple irony of hate mail delivered with a heart-festooned stamp that says: “LOVE.”

The stationery can be amusing too. Recent letters have come on paper featuring a charming, autumnal motif. Others arrive folded in much the same way a middle school student might wad up a torn piece of notebook paper to be passed in class.

For a while, when we were receiving more threatening letters, I would open them wearing industrial, dish-washing gloves as to not get my fingerprints on them. This, I promise, was no easy feat. While I could have gotten some tight latex gloves to ease the letter opening process, there was something in the absurd visual of me fumbling with a letter opener- wearing floppy, yellow, rubber gloves- that made it all worthwhile.

This is not the only time we use humor to fight hate.

On November 10th of last year, we organized a rally in opposition to white supremacists who were marching in downtown Charlotte. But instead of battling hate with hate- clown noses, balloons and red floppy shoes were our weapons of choice. Immigrant rights and social justice advocates came dressed as clowns, out numbering the white supremacists five to one. Our counter protest served as a mocking send-up of the real clowns- the absurd and ridiculous folks dressed in KKK robes and waving flags bearing the Nazi symbol. Our message to the neo-Nazi’s was:  “Humor: You’re doing it wrong.”

While our clowning of the white supremacists gathered a lot of positive attention- even national coverage from CNN, Huffington Post and others- we knew to expect renewed vigor from our angry pen pals. The new wave of hate has spewed our way, and although inevitable, it is a terrible reminder that there are still people in our community who react to difference with fear, hate and even violence.

As much as we may laugh, hate is serious business. And while white supremacy is a joke, it is one of the ugliest around. Did I chuckle when one hate mailer compared white people to endangered species like “polar bears and tigers?” Yes. But I was also saddened at the writer’s suggestion that I, as a white person, am working for an organization that seeks to “end your own existence.”

It is troubling to imagine people who perceive difference as a direct threat to their personal identity and culture. It is also difficult and sometimes scary to stand and face those who react to demographic shifts with fear, anger, and hate. But somehow a clown nose, a crazy wig and a willingness to laugh despite our fears make it a little easier.

Perhaps if we were all a little more willing to laugh at ourselves it wouldn’t be so hard to see beauty in both our differences and our sameness. Maybe you agree, but if you don’t, send me a letter. I’ve got some big rubber gloves and an audience.