NC legislation would help undocumented residents get driver's license

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Lawmakers are set to introduce a bill next week that would set up a path for undocumented residents to get a North Carolina driver's license.

"The issue is we've got these folks driving right now, and it just makes the roads safer to have them pursuant to being educated on our roads, and these are often parents of American citizens," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat who represents Guilford County.

A draft of the legislation is not yet available, though it is expected to be similar to House Bill 877, which Harrison sponsored last session.

Specifics were not immediately available, but undocumented residents could be able to apply for a driver's license depending on their driving record, proof of insurance, and how long they've lived in the state.

Harrison noted that they have tried to allay potential concerns from the undocumented community, who would need to provide potentially sensitive information to a state agency in order to obtain a license.

"We have a provision in the legislation that would prevent state agencies from using that information in immigration proceedings or deportation proceedings," explained Rep. Harrison.

While past efforts have been unsuccessful, there is some belief that this proposal could have more momentum. The make-up of the General Assembly is different, with more Democrats holding seats than last session. On top of that, some Republicans have voiced support for similar legislation, with Harrison noting a willingness to find common ground in an effort to put forward a bipartisan proposal.

"We need Republicans on board on this issue, so we've been trying to give on some of the issues about the issuance of driver's licenses," Harrison said. "Maybe have a driving privilege card rather than a driver's license per se, because these individuals will not have Social Security numbers and they have alternative forms of identification."

Mitch Kokai, senior political director of the conservative John Locke Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, noted that there's been a lack of public support for such legislation by Republican state senators thus far.

"It remains to be seen whether legislative leaders want to wade into this," Kokai said. There are so many contentious issues that are going to come up - the budget, Medicaid expansion, what to do about teacher pay, teacher conditions. All of those things are in the hopper, and are going to cause some fierce divisions. Whether legislative leaders say let's throw immigration and let's throw drivers licenses for immigrants into the mix, I would not necessarily bet at this point that they're going to want to do that."

Another potential hurdle: the political fallout, especially for Republicans.

"I think some in districts, that's really a major piece of the calculation," Kokai said. "Whatever the legislator thinks about the particular piece of legislation, they'll say 'I can't back this.' I think others are in districts in which they say 'my people will support this, and they'll support reasonable legislation that will deal with an existing problem,'"

The legislation has the support of The FaithAction ID Network, which "is open to any resident who might have limited access to government-issued forms of ID, and to those who support diverse and inclusive communities."

An online form calling on people and groups to back the bill was signed by El Pueblo in Raleigh, El Centro Hispano in Durham, True Ridge, in Hendersonville, FaithAction International House in Greensboro, The Hispanic League in Winston-Salem, Blessed Sacrament Church in Burlington, and United in Faith and Peace in Morganton.

Harrison hopes to introduce the legislation next Tuesday. To read an overview of the legislation, click here.
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