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.

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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.

Justice Department files suit Against Alamance County Sheriff’s Department

Terry Johnson

The Department of Justice has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, three months after it released a comprehensive investigative report which alleged a practice of racial profiling and discrimination by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) against Latinos in Alamance County.

“This is an abuse of power case involving a sheriff who misuses his position of authority to unlawfully target Latinos in Alamance County,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Sheriff Johnson’s directives and leadership have caused ACSO to violate the constitutional rights of Latinos in Alamance County and eroded public trust in ACSO.”

The Justice Department seeks a court enforceable, comprehensive, written agreement that will ensure long term structural, cultural and institutional change at ACSO.

This kind of discrimination and public policy, no matter how secret or unwritten, has no place in North Carolina. The ACSO has tarnished the reputation of our state. Shame on you, Sheriff Johnson. Our North Carolina welcomes everyone and treats them with the dignity and respect we all deserve. That’s the kind of place we will continue to uplift North Carolina to be.

Get more information on the evidence and read the details of the lawsuit here.