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News State / Region Driver licenses available for qualifying immigrants

North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced on Thursday, Feb. 14, that it will soon begin issuing driver licenses and identification cards to applicants qualified under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was implemented by President Obama on June 15, 2012, calling for deferred action for some undocumented young people who came to the United States as children and then pursued an education or served in the U.S. Military.

Deferred action is a discretionary grant of relief by the Department of Homeland Security. Individuals who fall under the deferred action status can apply for employment authorization, however, there is no direct path from deferred action to lawful and permanent residence or citizenship and can also be revoked at any time.

To be eligible for the DACA program, an individual must have been 31 years of age or less when the DACA memo was signed on June 15, 2012 and to have come to the U.S. before the age of 16. The person must also be in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military. Applicants must also receive biographic and biometic background checks that reveal no felonies, significant misdemeanors, or more than three misdemeanors and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

According to Tata, North Carolina will begin issuing licenses to those qualified on March 25, once new training can be completed by state license examiners and computer programming changes have been done.

“We are focused on customer service and committed to improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians,” said Tata. “After weeks of review, study and consultation we've found a way to make this right by developing a process that will allow qualified deferred action for childhood arrival applicants to obtain driver licenses, while protecting the rights of all United States citizens.”

The N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles stopped issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants last September citing that DACA may not conform with N.C. law according to the NCDOT. Licenses continued to be granted to those who possessed work permits, but that practice was halted last month as well.

The NCDOT reviewed the opinion issued by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper in January stating that the agency is legally required to issue licenses under the Obama Administration's DACA program. The agency also sought guidance from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which authorizes “those granted deferred action to be present in the country and to be considered lawfully present during their deferred action period.”

"We remain keenly aware that the driver's license is the key to many doors in our society," said Tata. "So as we approve driver's licenses for those approved by the federal government, we need to do so carefully."

N.C. driver licenses and ID cards will be issued to qualified immigrants, but they will expire at the end of the time period provided by the federal government for work authorization, usually not more than two years. In some cases, there will be an opportunity for renewal.

“We also appreciate the assistance of our state's sheriffs, the Department of Public Safety, our legal, communications and DMV staff, and the many advocacy groups who informed our decision making process,” Tata said.


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