Jackie Sanchez, 18, was illegally brought by her mother from Mexico to the United States when she was three and has always considered North Carolina her home.
“I started school here,” she said. “I know everything about North Carolina and the United States.”
Sanchez can work and study legally in the United States due to a recent federal policy — but her driver’s license will be colored pink.
Sanchez, a student at Durham Technical Community College, qualifies for privileges under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
Enacted by President Barack Obama’s administration last year, the policy offers temporary work or school permits to immigrants brought to the country before the age of 16.
Some states also granted immigrants the ability to drive legally for the first time.
North Carolina joined 33 other states when the N.C. Attorney General’s office required the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue licenses under the policy starting March 25.
But their design has been a point of contention for state legislators and immigrant groups.
The licenses will feature a pink header and the words “NO LAWFUL STATUS” across the front.
Sanchez said she has mixed feelings about the licenses.
“It’s something that I’m glad for, but at the same time sad because I don’t think that our Latino community deserves to be discriminated in that way,” she said.
“We need to drive to school and work, to go buy groceries, to pay bills.”
In response to the new licenses policy, a group of Democratic legislators filed a bill that would prohibit the new immigrant licenses from being different than other driver’s licenses.
“This is exactly the opposite of what the (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program is intended to do, which is to give these students opportunity and access to jobs and the ability to drive to and from their job or school,” said bill sponsor Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.
But he said he is doubtful the bill will pass.
Both the decision to issue the new licenses and the bill to prevent their distribution have generated controversy across the state.
Ron Woodard, director of N.C. Listen, a conservative immigration reform organization, said his group is opposed to giving immigrants any type of privileges under the policy — including licenses.
“Most of the (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) individuals came here with their parents, and that’s unfortunate that their parents broke the law and put them in that situation,” he said.
Ivan Parra, executive director of the N.C. Latino Coalition, said he feels ambivalent about the bill.
“On one side, there is a sense of relief and celebration because thousands of Latino youths are going to be able to drive in North Carolina,” he said.
“But we’re also very concerned about the fact that the licenses single out a section of the community.”
Sanchez said immigrants brought to the country as children should be given the same rights as citizens.
“Our parents just wanted a better life for us, a better future. That’s what everybody is trying to do. Everybody wants a better life. Everybody wants a better future. We’re all the same.”
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