House Bill 328, which passed in a judiciary committee meeting April 15, would allow undocumented residents with clean criminal records to get “restricted drivers permits.” The license would have a vertical orientation, display the driver’s undocumented status and would need to be renewed yearly.
Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, is the bill’s primary sponsor and said the bill should not be considered immigration reform.
“This bill has nothing to do with immigration, immigration law or immigration reform,” Warren said in an emailed statement. “It makes no suggestions or statements in regard to immigration, immigration law or immigration reform.”
Dani Moore, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center, supports granting driver’s licenses to undocumented citizens.
“We are very interested in making sure that everyone in North Carolina who is otherwise eligible can obtain a North Carolina driver license,” Moore said. “We have been working with community groups across North Carolina to promote driver licenses for immigrants for many years and to become more informed about this bill in 2015.”
But Moore said she was concerned that the bill only grants licenses to a few undocumented residents due to the numerous stipulations within the bill. She said the bill’s punitive provisions could be harmful to immigrant communities and U.S. citizens more broadly.
The bill does more than just establish the restricted license program.
“As the title states, the intent of the bill is to improve the safety — physical and financial — of our citizens on the highway and in their daily lives by enhancing some existing North Carolina statutes and creating several new ones,” Warren said.
One section within the bill enables N.C. law enforcement to transport “unlawfully present aliens” to a federal facility in the state or “into custody that is outside the jurisdiction of the law enforcement agency” — provided law enforcement has permission from the governor.
The bill also establishes laws that apply to all N.C. residents.
One section increases the penalty of using fake IDs from a misdemeanor to a felony, except in cases where the ID was used to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, such as getting on an airplane. Another one would require law enforcement officers to seize and impound any car in cases where the driver was without a license.
Emilio Vicente, an undocumented N.C. resident and senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, said he supported the bill’s provision to grant licenses to undocumented residents.
“I am cautiously optimistic that it will pass because in the past, similar bills have been issued, and they haven’t gone anywhere,” he said. “I am hoping this will go through and it gives undocumented people the ability to have driver’s licenses.”