The Justice Center’s Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (IRRP) believes everyone deserves fair treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, or country of origin. We work to ensure that low-income immigrants have the legal representation necessary to navigate the complex and onerous immigration system; to protect immigrants and their families from abuses in the public and private sectors; and to advance public policies that improve the well-being of immigrant families and provide them with opportunities for economic security.
From the beginning of 2013, Justice Center staff members were actively involved in the fight to ensure that the state Department of Transportation provided driver licenses to eligible individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
With the ACLU of North Carolina, we co-authored letters to the state Attorney General and Secretary of Transportation urging the granting of licenses to DACA youth and providing legal precedent that mandated the licenses be issued. Our advocacy also included public events and a petition drive. We provided information to the media and issued press statements on DACA youths’ need and eligibility for driver licenses. We began to prepare for litigation, which was thankfully unnecessary when the Department of Transportation decided to grant the licenses in February 2013.
Unfortunately, some sought to exploit the need for driver licenses by undocumented immigrants to serve an anti-immigrant agenda. They introduced the so-called “Reclaim NC act,” which off ered driver licenses for some undocumented immigrants but also included many Arizona-style provisions hostile to immigrants. The Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project worked for much of 2013 informing the public and the media about the potential effects of the proposed legislation. We proposed amendments to the bill, led lobby days with community members and advocates opposing the bill, and activated supporters to contact legislators, generating approximately 24,000 emails to lawmakers. The legislation did not pass and the Justice Center’s efforts played a major role in defeating the bill.
IRRP continued its work fighting deportations and obtaining legal status for families. In 2013, IRRP obtained legal status for 79 clients in addition to our work with community partners on DACA legal clinics. We also supervised the work of Bureau of Immigration Appeals accredited representatives who assisted hundreds more.
The project also worked towards common-sense and humane federal immigration reform, analyzing the Senate-passed comprehensive bill and holding 14 community education events in Fall 2013 to inform and engage community members—many of whom were not previously actively participating in the fight for fair immigration reform in Congress. Through these events, conducted in Spanish and English, we reached more than 800 people, primarily from directly affected communities.
Finally, in 2013 the project launched its “Home to Me: Immigrant Stories from NC” multimedia series, highlighting the lives of North Carolina immigrants and their families from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Videos, audio pieces and written stories were released every month and allowed North Carolinians to hear directly from immigrants about their life experiences and how policies affect them.