North Carolina DREAMers can breathe a sigh of relief. After a lengthy debate, the state's Department of Transportation announced Thursday that deferred action recipients will be eligible for driver's licenses.
Young undocumented immigrants granted a two-year reprieve from deportation can begin to apply for licenses on March 25. The licenses will have a clearly marked expiration date that coincides with the end of the holder's deferred-action status.
The deferred-action program did not originally specify that recipients were lawfully present in the United States, a sticking point with some states who said lawful status was required before they would issue licenses. But updated program guidelines from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services changed that, and North Carolina's attorney general said last month that DREAMers should receive licenses.
The state's DOT acknowledged the recommendation at the time but said they were still considering the issue.
"We are focused on customer service and committed to improving the quality of life for all North Carolinians," DOT Secretary Tony Tata said in a statement on Thursday. "After weeks of review, study and consultation we've found a way to make this right by developing a process that will allow qualified deferred action for childhood arrival applicants to obtain driver licenses, while protecting the rights of all United States citizens."
North Carolina issued more than a dozen licenses to DREAMers before suspending the practice in January, saying it required further review. Those licenses will be reinstated.
Local DREAMers praised the decision but said the process lasted too long and that the delay was a political ploy by opponents of the deferred-action program.
"We will have zero tolerance to being used as political pawns when it comes to the safety of our communities" Cinthia Marroquin, a deferred-action recipient and lead organizer for the North Carolina DREAM Team, said in a statement. "We know this is politics as usual… moving forward, the North Carolina DREAM Team welcomes a better reception from the leadership of this state and especially from our Governor, Pat McCrory who can show true leadership to move North Carolina forward."
According to a post on the DREAM Team's website, DREAMers who tried to attend the press conference announcing the new license policy were denied entry and ignored.
Marroquin told ABC/Univision that the group was told when they tried to enter the conference that it was "only for press." She added that her team has pressured the DOT to grant licenses to deferred action recipients and that the relationship has had its tense moments.
A spokesperson for the DOT said any exclusion was not intentional and that there were members of the community in attendance.
"I don't know what happened there," the spokesperson said. "It was not intentional. I don't know how that misunderstanding happened, but there were other people there."
Each state is tasked with deciding whether to issue licenses to DREAMers. Most states issue the licenses and several, including Michigan and Iowa, reversed their original decision not to after the updated guidelines specifying that deferred action recipients are "lawfully present" came out. Arizona and Nebraska do not issue licenses although the director of Nebraska's Department of Motor Vehicles said in early February that the state was reviewing that policy. A spokesman for the Arizona governor's office did not return repeated requests for comment.