With REAL ID law going into effect in October, NC Democrats introduce bill to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses

Proposed legislation introduced Wednesday in the North Carolina House (House Bill 311) would allow those without immigration paperwork to obtain a legal driver’s license from the state, with certain restrictions.

Rep. Ricky Hurtado, D-Alamance, is sponsoring a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for restricted driver’s licenses.

At a press conference Thursday hosted by the Alianza de derechos de los Inmigrantes de Carolina del Norte, (the Immigrants’ Rights Alliance of North Carolina), bill sponsor Rep. Ricky Hurtado, an Alamance County Democrat, said providing undocumented immigrants access to a drivers’ license plays a pivotal role in building an inclusive and safe community.

Hurtado stressed that the purpose of the proposed licenses would merely be to provide paperwork for drivers’ identification for undocumented members of the community. It would not meet the requirements of a federal REAL ID.

Passed in 2005, the federal REAL ID Act requires states to adopt a set of safety standards for identification. Since then, states have transitioned to enhanced driver’s licenses that are compliant with REAL ID standards. The REAL ID law goes into effect Oct 1, 2021.

Individuals who can show proof of legal immigration status can hold REAL IDs that are valid for limited terms. North Carolina has already issued such driver’s licenses of shorter durations according to provisions in the statute.

In cases where the proof of citizenship or lawful presence is lacking, however, the REAL ID law does allow states to issue noncompliant IDs. The proposed restricted driver’s license in Hurtado’s bill is such an example.

Hurtado said even having the restricted IDs in place would be a huge step forward for North Carolinians. He said the bill is essential for many North Carolina immigrants who work on the front lines and would make them more comfortable when they’re visiting a doctor or trasnporting their kids to school.

Rev. David Fraccaro, the executive director of Faith Action International Health said at the conference Thursday that the bill will not only benefit hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants but also facilitate better safety for the community in general. He said a state-issued ID would lessen concerns of victims who fear reporting crimes to law enforcement because of their undocumented status. Fraccaro called on Republican members of the General Assembly to support the bill.

“This bill allows our communities to drive on the road, to have a place, to have a house, having identification dedication on their hands”, said Juvencio Rocha-Peralta, the executive director of the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina (AMEXCAN) at the press conference. “When somebody asked him who they are, at least they can say ‘this is my North Carolina ID.'”

Another bill sponsored by Senate Democrats would achieve similar effects. Both measures would add a new subsection to the law about restricted licenses and terms of eligibility.

Both bills would also require applicants for the proposed restricted driver’s license to be a resident of North Carolina and have paid state taxes. They would also need to pass the road test and prove insurance.

In addition, both bills propose a different design for these restricted IDs that makes them discernible from REAL IDs, in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. However, a provision in the Senate bill specifically prohibits criminal investigation, arrest, or detention based on the possession of these IDs alone.

The Senate bill also includes language that specifies what the restricted driver’s license would only be good for establishing driving privileges, meaning that it couldn’t be used for access to federal buildings, eligibility for employment and benefits, or voting.

Hurtado’s House bill states that the cost to obtain these licenses would not exceed $53. The two bills have been referred to the Rules committees in their respective chambers.

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