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NC Lawmakers Consider Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

Photo: Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan)
Jorge Valencia

Members of a North Carolina legislative panel approved a plan on Wednesday to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a restricted driver’s license if they pass a criminal background check and meet several other requirements.

For sponsors of the bill, the plan is a way to help police enforce local laws when they interact with people who are living in the country illegally. Local charities in Winston-Salem and Greensboro and authorities in Charlotte either issue or are looking for ways to issue identification cards, said Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury).

“There is a need for identification, but we can’t have municipalities or faith-based organizations creating their own form of ID,” Warren said in a hearing.

But for representatives who opposed the bill and anti-illegal immigration advocates, state-issued identification would be a type of validation and invitation for unwanted migration to the state. The bill has provisions—including making the possession of false documents a felony—that improve security in the state, but they are insufficient measures, said William Gheen, president of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal immigration.

“The poison pill in this bill is it is a license for illegal immigrants,” Gheen said.  

House Bill 328, which was approved in voice vote by a judiciary committee in the House of Representatives, is one of two immigration-related proposals North Carolina lawmakers have debated during this year’s legislative session. It would make people in the country eligible to obtain a one-year driver’s that would bear distinctive formatting, and would make it a felony to have, make, or sell false documents, and a misdemeanor in cases of people under 21 attempting to buy alcohol or people under 18 attempting to buy cigarettes. And it would make it more difficult for judges to release people in the country illegally who are suspected of a sex offense, a violent felony, or driving, drug or gang offenses.

Also on Wednesday, members of the House commerce committee approved a bill that would increase the number of businesses required to use the federal electronic system known as E-Verify to check prospective employees’ legal eligibility to work.

House Bill 318 would require businesses employing five or more more people to use the database, tightening the current requirement that businesses employ 25 or more people. Bill sponsor Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow) said state lawmakers should work to keep people from immigrating illegally, because he said Congress continues not to act on the country’s broken immigration laws.

“We’ve allowed a huge illegal population in the state,” Cleveland said. “We’ve taken employment from our citizens. We’ve lowered the wage base because of the illegals working here.”

The proposal received support from anti-illegal immigration organizations and from Fred Bronson, who said he was laid off from his job at a Raleigh electrical company because his employer favored immigrants who earned lower wages. The North Carolina Chamber does not support the plan because it would undo portions of a similar state law it helped negotiate in 2014 and would be a detriment to small businesses, a spokesperson said.

Wednesday’s proposals have some overlap. Both would invalidate consular registration cards as valid forms of identification. Consulates including Mexico’s issue registration cards.

But the sponsors of the two bills disagree on an approach to illegal immigration. Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender), co-sponsor of HB318, the bill tightening E-Verify requirements, said in an interview that supporting the driver’s license bill would violate his oath of office.

"You’re asking me if I would support legislation that would help people who are willingly breaking federal law?” Millis said. "No."

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