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.

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.

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.