North Carolina drops plans for pink licenses for young immigrants

<i>This post has been updated. See note below for details.</i>

Transportation officials in North Carolina have backed down from a plan to issue driver’s licenses with a prominent pink stripe to young immigrants who qualify for a federal program that delays deportation for two years.

After protests from immigration and civil rights groups, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has quietly removed the pink stripe from the proposed special licenses, which it will begin issuing Monday. Opponents have said the pink stripe and the phrase “NO LAWFUL STATUS’’ on the licenses would stigmatize young immigrants who have earned temporary lawful status.

The new version, posted on the agency’s website, features the same dark blue background as the state’s standard license. It still contains the phrase “NO LAWFUL STATUS,’’ but adds the words “LEGAL PRESENCE.’’


Both the new and old versions include the phrase “LIMITED TERM.’’ The federal Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program, announced in June, offers work permits and a two-year deferral from deportation to certain young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The North Carolina licenses are considered temporary and are designed to correspond to the eligibility period under the federal program, according to the transportation agency website. It says the licenses are similar to limited duration documents issued to visiting students and agricultural workers.

Republican members of the state Legislature had expressed concerns that the licenses would enable illegal immigrants to vote or obtain social services. They have attempted to block or delay the licenses.

The transportation agency website did not explain the reason for removing the pink stripe.

“Statute requires all temporary licenses to bear a distinguishing mark on the face,’’ said a statement on the website that accompanied the latest license version. ‘This design will allow for ease of implementation as we continue to work toward a next generation secure license for all North Carolina drivers.’’

In a statement, state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said, “This program is about accountability and safety, making our roads safer for all North Carolinians.’’

Mike Charbonneau, a spokesman for the transportation agency, said the changes were made to comply with legal requirements.


“It was about ease of implementation,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which had opposed the pink stripe, welcomed the change but said the “NO LAWFUL STATUS” phrase should be removed.

“This new look is a huge step in the right direction,” Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the group, said in a statement. “By eliminating the bright pink stripe and adding the words ‘legal presence,’ this new design should help reduce the chances that young immigrants receiving deferred action will face discrimination or harassment.’’

North Carolina had been the only state to mark licenses with the bearer’s legal status, according to the National Immigration Law Center. At least 38 other states, including California, have issued licenses to deferred-action recipients or have declared them eligible for licenses, according to the center. Several other states generally include deferred action as an eligible status for licenses.

Three states have already granted such licenses. Two states — Arizona and Nebraska — have announced that recipients of childhood-arrival deferrals are not eligible for licenses.

More than 16,000 young people in North Carolina have received federal deferred-action work permits.

[Update: 1:55 p.m. March 23: An earlier version of this post said the North Carolina Department of Transportation could not be reached for comment. The post now contains a comment from Mike Charbonneau, a department spokesman, who said the design changes to the drivers license were made to comply with legal requirements.]



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