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Clarity sought on driver's license access for permanent residents

Yi Zhao
Google Maps

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has been asked to clarify its policies when issuing — or denying — driver’s licenses to permanent residents, such as green-card holders.

In a legal petition filed this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the North Carolina Justice Center say procedures have been inconsistent and at times unlawful.

“We've gotten several reports from community members and advocates that the North Carolina [Division of Motor Vehicles] has been denying driver's licenses to otherwise eligible immigrants and this practice has been happening for quite some time,” ACLU lawyer Muneeba Talukder said.

“In order to remedy this, they're going to have to recognize that our clients are folks who have permanent and indefinite status as defined by the federal government, and that under North Carolina law, they're eligible for full-term driver's licenses if they meet all the other requirements.”

Living without a driver’s license in North Carolina isn’t easy, Talukder pointed out. For her immigrant clients, losing a license can be life-altering.

“It's had a really serious impact on our clients, who have lost jobs because of this, who are unable to pick up and drop off their kids to schools and unable to meet their daily obligations and go to medical appointments,” she said.

The burden is felt the most by people without access to alternative transportation, explained attorney Kate Woomer-Deters of the North Carolina Justice Center in a news release.

“The consequences of DMV’s failure to issue licenses to lawfully present immigrants fall most heavily on low-income and rural North Carolinians, who often lack the means to pay for expensive ride-sharing services and do not have access to public transportation,” Woomer-Deters said.

“Loss of a driver license can be financially catastrophic as well as causing serious challenges to North Carolinians’ ability to care for themselves and their family members.”

Talukder added that lawyers have struggled to get consistent guidance from the Department of Transportation on this issue. The legal petition filed this week seeks to remedy that problem.

The Department of Transportation did not respond to our request for comment.

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Kayla Young