RALEIGH (March 31, 2023) – The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has issued a declaratory ruling establishing that immigrants of permanent and indefinite status are entitled to full-term driver’s licenses under North Carolina law. The North Carolina Justice Center and ACLU of North Carolina filed a petition regarding the DMV’s inconsistent, unfair, and discriminatory practices in December. The petition declared that the DMV had been wrongfully denying driver’s licenses and/or providing limited-term driver’s licenses to noncitizen North Carolinians with permanent or indefinite lawful status. The petition also cited the compounding impacts of depriving immigrants of the ability to drive, including the ability to get to and from work, school, and medical appointments, among countless other daily tasks.
“I agreed to the petition because it was an opportunity to make things better,” said Mayra Luna, one of the petitioners in the case. “Knowing that I will get a license issued for the appropriate period of time is great because, under the previous policy, I was denied and did not have a license for four months and had to quit my job because I couldn’t drive to get there. I’m happy that this ruling benefits so many more people than I thought and that they won’t have to go through the same experiences that I did.”
In North Carolina, over 90 percent of the population relies on cars to go to work and the ability to drive is an essential part of being able to navigate everyday life. Unlawful denials of driver’s licenses from immigrants who are otherwise eligible to drive also created a very real possibility that noncitizen drivers would be funneled into the criminal legal system.
“North Carolinians rely on their driver’s licenses to get to work, school, the doctor, the grocery store, and anywhere else they need to go—it is an undeniable part of everyday life,” said Muneeba S. Talukder, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of North Carolina. “The DMV’s wrongful denials had a serious impact on thousands of immigrants in North Carolina. With this ruling, the DMV has acknowledged its obligations under the law to provide full-term driver’s licenses to immigrants with permanent or indefinite status and has committed to end its practice of wrongfully denying driver’s licenses to eligible immigrants.
“This is a significant victory, but we are still concerned with the DMV’s decision to require non-citizen drivers to go through the SAVE verification process, which is notorious for delays. We’ll continue to review options and approaches that allow us to act in defense of immigrant communities.”
“We are grateful to our clients who acted to stand up for their own rights but also those thousands of immigrants across North Carolina who have been impacted by confusing policies that were unsupported by law,” said Kate Woomer-Deters, Senior Attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center. “We hope the DMV rapidly implements the new policy and provides guidance to driver license applicants and DMV staff alike that makes clear that full-term licenses should be available to all immigrants who have a permanent or indefinite lawful status in the U.S., and which does not unduly delay or burden immigrants in their license applications.”
In response to this decision, the ACLU of NC and NC Justice Center are prioritizing informing community members of their right to access full-term driver licenses and will be releasing informational resources in English and Spanish in the coming days.