The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles is required to issue a driver’s license to an immigrant who has received the two-year reprieve from deportation known as “deferred action” from federal immigration authorities, according to an opinion from Grayson G. Kelley, the state chief deputy attorney general.
“It is … our opinion that individuals who have been granted deferred action … are lawfully present in the United States during the period of deferment,” Kelley said in a letter today to DMV Acting Commissioner J. Eric Boyette. “As such N.C. (law), which states that DMV shall issue a driver's license of limited duration to persons who present valid documentation demonstrating deferment and meet all other statutory requirements, requires that such licenses be issued.”
It was not immediately clear whether the DMV would start issuing licenses to immigrants on deferred action.
DMV Commissioner Eric Boyette said in a statement Thursday that officials “have just received the ruling…today and we are in the process of reviewing it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said in a news release that the DMV should follow Kelley’s lead.
"In light of this clear opinion, the DMV should do the right thing and reinstate its policy of granting licenses to all qualified drivers who have received deferred action,” said Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the ACLU-N.C. Legal Foundation. “There is no reason – legal or otherwise – why the DMV should prevent immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States from driving and further contributing to our state and society.”
Kelley’s letter comes four months after DMV officials had asked the state Attorney General’s Office to give an opinion on whether the DMV was required to issue a driver’s license to an immigrant who has received the two-year reprieve under a program known as Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, implemented in August by President Barack Obama.
Deferred action does not change a person’s residency status. It’s not like a green card or temporary visa. It blocks the possibility of deportation for two years. But it also allows the recipient to get a Social Security card and work permit.
Until recently, the work permit, known as an Employment Authorization Card, had been one of the documents that the DMV accepted as proof of residency from non-U.S. citizens. But the DMV stopped accepting the work permit from those who have gotten deferred action until the legal issue could be cleared up.
Moises Serrano, a Yadkin County resident who has applied for deferred action and is an immigrant advocate, said that he was “elated” when he heard about the deputy attorney general’s opinion. But he also cautioned that a broader solution is needed.
“It reinforces the idea that we need more than deferred action. We can’t stay in this limbo wondering if the driver’s license is going be taken away tomorrow. We need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to know what’s going to happen to our community. We need to know what’s going to happen to our parents,” he said.
More than 13,000 immigrants in North Carolina have submitted an application for deferred action to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to USCIS statistics up to Dec. 13.
The state was ranked sixth nationwide behind California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois as having the most applications. Nationwide, nearly 368,000 applications have been sent to USCIS; of those, nearly 356,000 have been approved.
To qualify for the DACA program, the applicant must have no serious criminal record. The program blocks the deportation of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16, are not older than 31, have graduated from high school, attended college or served in the military.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.