Young immigrants in North Carolina recently given work permits under President Barack Obama's deferred action plan are outraged: The state will be giving them driver's licenses emblazoned with a pink stripe and the words "NO LAWFUL STATUS."
"It is discrimination," said Jose Rico, a 23-year-old community college student who has been protesting the new licenses, announced by the state's Department of Transportation last month. Rico, who was brought to Raleigh by his family from Mexico when he was 13, received a work permit three weeks ago under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The DACA program provides relief from deportation and a two-year, renewable work permit for young illegal immigrants under 31 who were brought to the country as children and are attending or have graduated from high school.
Immigrant advocacy groups in the state are planning protests targeting the state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, in the lead-up to the special licenses' release March 25. McCrory seems unlikely to intervene in the Department of Transportation's decision, however. He has called the plan a "pragmatic compromise" between those who wanted the state to not issue licenses at all and those who wanted the state to issue regular licenses.
Some state politicians, led by Republican state Rep. Mark Brody, have argued that the DACA program isn't valid because it was instituted by Obama through executive action last year, instead of approved by Congress, and thus North Carolina should not recognize it.
North Carolina is one of a handful of states that said it was considering withholding driver's licenses to the young illegal immigrants who have been given temporary lawful presence and work permits under Obama's program. DACA recipients are not technically legal immigrants, even though they cannot be deported and can legally work. The federal government says they have "lawful presence" in the country but not "lawful status"—immigration terms with complex legal definitions.
Rico and other activists argue that the license gives a false impression that they do not have the right to be in the country and could be deported. Michael Tan, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the "no lawful status" emblazoned on the license "sends the wrong message to employers, to people at the bank, the people you come across in everyday life." The Department of Transportation said in a statement that it has used the pink color in the past, when it gave temporary licenses to evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
The ACLU is currently challenging Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in court for her executive order declaring that no DACA recipient can get a license. Nebraska has also denied licenses to the group.