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.


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.

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

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.

DACA recipients and driver’s licenses in North Carolina

By Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications

UPDATE – January 17, 2013: NC Attorney General says DACA recipients should get drivers licenses

In August of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security began the policy of granting deferred action to undocumented young people who met very specific criteria. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy permits individuals who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and who meet other age, education, continuous presence, and criminal history–related requirements to remain in the U.S. for a renewable two-year period and to apply for work authorization.

For many of these young people, the ability to obtain a driver’s license is essential- to go to work, school, care for their families, and serve the public interest by being trained, tested, and insured drivers.

However, the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has started denying the privilege of obtaining driver’s licenses to DACA recipients. Even after several DACA recipients in North Carolina received driver’s licenses in the last few months on 2012.

The DMV released this statement on January 15, 2013:

In early September of 2012, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles experts raised concerns that the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program might not conform with North Carolina law. On September 10, 2012, out of an abundance of caution, DMV officials requested a legal opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office and decided to stop issuing driver licenses to applicants under the DACA program until a legal opinion was issued.  

In the meantime, the DMV has cancelled each license it awarded to DACA recipients. Their statement continues:

An internal review of DMV’s records late last week, however, revealed that 13 licenses had been unintentionally issued to applicants in the DACA program before federal database updates were complete.

To maintain consistency of policy, the DMV mailed notification to these applicants on Jan. 11 letting them know their licenses were issued in error; therefore, their driving privileges have been cancelled. Once the AG’s office issues an opinion, a determination about issuing licenses to DACA applicants will be made. 

DACA recipients who are granted deferred action and obtain an employment authorization document (EAD) and Social Security numbers fit well within the general rules for driver’s license issuance in almost every state, including North Carolina. They undergo background and identity checks, submit biometrics, and prove residency to qualify for DACA. They should be able to obtain North Carolina driver’s licenses.

While denying DACA recipients the privilege to receive driver’s licenses is at the state’s discretion- Arizona and Michigan, for instance, have created special rules making DACA recipients ineligible for driver’s licenses- doing so is outright discrimination.

We demand Attorney General Roy Cooper and the NC DMV do the right thing in North Carolina and grant driver’s licenses to DACA recipients immediately.


Have you been received deferred action yet been denied a driver’s license or had it cancelled? Contact us and we’ll try to help you.

Justice beyond Deferred Action

By Ramon Garibaldo-Valdez

On the morning June 15, a mixture of joy and expectation filled the Hispanic community of North Carolina. The good news spread quickly through word-of-mouth and social networks: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that certain types of “low-priority” undocumented immigrants would be able to apply for deferred action, a method of prosecutorial discretion that would make those eligible exempt from deportation and able to apply for a temporary work permit.

Those who watched the speech that President Obama made later that day realized that for the first time since 1986 the federal government was making a clear change in immigration policy – a change that would help undocumented students live without the fear of being deported and open the doors to the workforce for thousands of undocumented college graduates.

In the midst of the excitement and as newscasts spelled the requirements necessary to apply for deferred action, hope faded for a large number of students. These were students who had been here for less than five years before the new policy was announced. These were students who had dropped out of high school after losing all their hopes of entering college. These were students who for one reason or another, could not apply for deferred action.

It is true that deferred action is a blessing for undocumented students in times like these, when it seems that Congress has turned its back upon them. However, the light shed by the new immigration policy should not blind us from the realities of those people who will not be able to apply for deferred action.

The fear of many people who fight for immigrants’ rights is that once deferred action is given to enough students, the strong activism that has characterized the undocumented community will stop. If we let that happen, deferred action would have served to weaken the immigrant community rather than to strengthen it

What about those who do not qualify for deferred action? We have to keep fighting for them until a real immigration reform is reached. In fact, it is necessary to keep fighting even for those who qualify for deferred action because, as it has been repeatedly mentioned in the media, deferred action is a policy subject to changes in the Executive branch of the federal government. It is necessary to remind ourselves of the fact that deferred action is nothing but a temporary solution – a policy that will simply reduce the consequences of a broken immigration system without actually fixing it.

Furthermore, we have to ask ourselves, what was it that brought forth the sudden change in migratory policy?  The answer can be found in the hundreds of demonstrations organized by DREAMers around the country to ask for a better treatment of their rights. Deferred action was not simply granted by the government; it was earned by thousands of students who left their comfort zones and made their voices heard.

Now more than ever, we cannot rest on our laurels. Instead of conforming ourselves with the temporary relief of deferred action, we have to learn from the students who fought for this policy and keep asking for a real change. Only by coming out of our comfort zones will we achieve a real, comprehensive change in the immigration system.

We have already won a battle. Now let’s go win the war.

Deferred Action Resources

By Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications

President Obama’s announcement that people who were brought to the U.S. as young children (and meet certain requirements) will be considered for relief from deportation is a significant milestone in the immigrant rights movement. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who have spent a significant portion of their lives in the U.S. and consider themselves Americans now have hope and relief.

As expected, there are questions and lots of details to consider and La Coalición is here to help.

We have developed and compiled some tools to help you get all the info you need to decide if you or anyone you know qualifies for this deferred action.

Screening Questionnaire (PDF, English)

We are also hosting information sessions to make sure the right information gets out and to protect the community from people who may use this announcement as a way to take advantage of others. Both sessions are in Spanish, free, and here at the Coalition.

  • Friday, June 22, 2012 – 4:30-6:00 pm
  • Friday, June 29, 2012 – 4:30-6:00 pm

We’re at 4938 Central Avenue, Suite 101 in Charlotte.

Here are a few more documents to make sure all your questions are answered.

Preguntas frecuentes (PDF, Spanish)

Frequently Asked Questions (PDF, English)

DHS/ICE Fact Sheet (PDF, English)

As always, you can call us at 704-531-3848 for more information.