MEDIA RELEASE: Consensus to grant driving privileges to undocumented immigrants in North Carolina

Republicans and Democrats agree on the right to drive but with varying degrees of accessibility

RALEIGH (April 11, 2013) — We Are NC, a coalition of organizations throughout the state, strongly supports access to driving privileges for all qualified North Carolinians, regardless of immigration status.  Driver’s licenses are a top priority for the safety of both immigrant communities and our state as a whole, and we have long worked to make this a reality.

We are encouraged to witness the widespread bipartisan support for such privileges, as evidenced by the three separate bills that have been introduced in the legislature: HB 915, Road Safety Through Drivers License Access, introduced today by Rep. Susan Fisher; HB 786, RECLAIM NC Act, filed by Rep. Harry Warren on Wednesday; and SB 622, Drivers Licenses for ITIN Holders, filed by Sen. Floyd McKissick, Jr. earlier this month.

"There's no doubt that it's good public policy to have all of our drivers tested and insured," said Rep. Fisher of Buncombe County, one of the primary co-sponsors of HB 915. "Law enforcement shouldn't be wasting its time on license checkpoints that force immigrant families to hunker down and hide from their communities instead of being welcomed to participate in it.”

However, as a coalition of immigrant and advocacy organizations, We Are NC is deeply concerned about the Arizona-style racial profiling aspects and other punitive provisions put forth in the RECLAIM NC bill.

“This legislation puts communities between a rock and a hard place,” said Angeline Echeverria, Executive Director of El Pueblo in Raleigh. “Communities should not have to choose between basic needs and giving up civil rights.”

It is critical that immigrants, their friends, families and allies are involved in discussions that greatly impact their day-to-day lives. In the coming weeks we will host community dialogues across our state to discuss the different bills in the general assembly to gauge their support and concerns about each proposal.

We have deep concerns about the RECLAIM NC bill, including provisions that would enact Arizona-style racial profiling. The bill would:

  • Require undocumented immigrants to register with the state within a short two-month window or potentially face harassment, fines, arrest and forfeiture of property;
  • Deny access to bail to undocumented immigrants jailed for certain crimes, including traffic violations, until they are seen by a judge;
  • Seize and sell at public auction all people’s cars who are accused of driving with lapsed insurance or without a license; and
  • Elevate some misdemeanors to felonies for all North Carolinians.

These changes will affect us all, particularly low-income residents of our state.

Additionally, we are concerned that a large proportion of people who should qualify for driving privileges will be excluded from getting the permit. Many potential drivers will be unable to prove their residency or provide acceptable identification because certain consular documents will not be recognized. There will also be many people who are excluded because they have been charged with minor offenses.

Luckily, we have some viable alternatives to this regressive bill that better reflect North Carolina values of fairness, inclusiveness and good hospitality:

  • HB 915, Road Safety Through Drivers License Access, will provide driver’s licenses ensuring that everyone on our roads is licensed and will bring in needed revenue for our state without the punitive measures included in the RECLAIM NC bill, and
  • SB 622, Drivers Licenses for ITIN Holders, would allow otherwise qualified drivers who have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to get a driver’s license.

These bills are more in line with the national shift on immigration to one of conciliation and fairness. We hope that federal immigration rules will soon be aligned to realistically and democratically address the work and family needs of all of us. Many states are seeing the wisdom in investing in long term success by providing in-state tuition, financial aid and driving privileges to all qualified applicants, regardless of immigration status.

We hope North Carolina follows suit and prepares for a more inclusive future by pursuing less divisive policies.

We Are NC is an alliance of organizations and individuals working to shift the debate on immigration in our state. We believe in the contributions of all communities, including immigrants and refugees, who have worked hard to make NC what it is today.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Angeline Echeverria, Executive Director, El Pueblo (Raleigh), 334-467-6751, angeline@elpueblo.org or Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications, Latin American Coalition (Charlotte), 704-531-3932, abellmas@latinamericancoalition.org