North Carolina’s controversial plan to mark driver's licenses
issued to deferred action recipients was
met with protests last week in Washington, D.C. Last month, North Carolina's Department of Transportation
announced that individuals granted
deferred action would receive licenses marked "No Lawful Status" in bright pink.
Critics were quick to characterize the move a "modern-day scarlet letter." When the Obama administration's
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was implemented last year, North Carolina initially indicated that it
would not allow applicants with deferred action to receive driver's
licenses, joining four other states - Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska.
Iowa and Michigan have since changed stances, recently indicating that
licenses would be issued to those granted deferred action.
Deferred Action is a program created for young undocumented immigrants
who arrived as children and meet certain
eligibility requirements.* Among the criteria, you must:
- have entered the U.S. before turning sixteen;
- have been under thirty-one years old as of June 15, 2012;
- have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 up until the present;
- have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time
of applying for deferred action;
- have entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or had your lawful
status expired as of June 15, 2012;
- be in school, have graduated from high school or obtained a high school
completion certificate, obtained a GED certificate, or be an honorably
discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard; and
- have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or
more other misdemeanors, and not otherwise pose a threat to public safety
or national security.
The Department of Homeland Security has been very clear that the program
does not grant a lawful status; however, approval provides recipients
with a two-year deferral of removal (deportation) and eligibility for
work authorization where need can be shown. Supporters of immigration
reform have embraced the program as a positive step from the administration.
It was a long-awaited move that appeared at the tail end of President
Obama's first term, conspicuously announced just in time for the presidential
election. Long overdue though it was, the program was a step toward addressing
the millions of undocumented who were brought here as children. The program
could help an estimated 1.7 million young undocumented immigrants. By
allowing work authorization eligibility, deferred action could lead to
a social security number and state-issued identification. In doing so,
these young people can rise from the shadows, work lawfully, and (continue
to) contribute positively to our society and country.
North Carolina is among the small but vocal minority of states that have
resisted the idea of granting state-issued identification and driver's
licenses to deferred action recipients. While North Carolina has announced
that it will grant driver's licenses, the "mark" brings
to mind Nathaniel Hawthorne's American classic,
The Scarlet Letter. The state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, called the plan a “pragmatic
compromise," which would be laughable if he wasn't being serious.
Like the protestors at the Capitol, I would like to know the purpose of
having such a mark. What does it accomplish, other than trying to shame
the card's holder? The plan is two steps backward after one forward.
On one hand we recognize that deferred action is a special benefit for
certain young undocumented individuals brought here as children, but on
the other hand, the state wants to mark their identification so all will
know - THEY HAVE "NO LAWFUL STATUS." The mark invites discrimination
and makes the holder's immigration status (or lack thereof) known
to all kinds of people who have no business knowing - the cashier verifying
a purchase, the doorman at a club. The Deferred Action program was supposed
to lift up those who arrived as children, but North Carolina is intent
on pushing them back down and branding them.
I have met many deferred action applicants and recipients. And believe
it or not, so have you. Maybe you just didn't know it. This is their
home. They know no other country. They are students, hard workers, and
dreamers. They want to continue with school, serve in the military, gain
lawful employment. They want to rise one level higher than their parents,
just like the rest of us. Marking these people, many of whom are still
minors, is a device to shame them and appease anti-immigration reform
voters. Any attempt to explain otherwise is a lie. Deferred action recipients
are people who have proven that they were brought here as children and
do not pose a risk to the community; in fact, they have shown a willingness
and ability to contribute. Insisting on marking them is just the wrong
fight to pick, the wrong group to target. Those supporting North Carolina's
branding plan should be the ones to hang their heads in shame.
*If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of deferred
action or want help determining if you are eligible, you should consult
USCIS resources and an experienced immigration attorney (private / nonprofit).