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Undocumented And Driving Without A License

NC DOT Controversial License

There are thousands of young, undocumented immigrants in North Carolina, dreaming of going to the school of their choice, finding a good job and getting a driver’s license.   Many of these ‘dreamers’ are waiting for official papers from the federal government after applying through the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ program.  But in this state, they’re also waiting to find out for if their new legal status warrants a ‘No Lawful Status’ banner stamped on their driver’s licenses.

But there are some young undocumented immigrants who say they're driving one way or the other.  WUNC caught up with a young man in the Triad.  Jorge is his name and driving is his game.

“I’m undocumented, unafraid and unashamed. I mean I’m undocumented, I’m not afraid of people to know that.  I’m not unashamed, because I’m not an alien," says a very confident Jorge.

The 18-year-old has postponed college because he says it’s his job to take care of his mother and three sisters while his father is away working construction in South Carolina.  And the Mexican-born teenager does so from morning 'til night, even without a license.

“I’m not a criminal.  I’m a student that’s here, that has a dream that I want to succeed, I want to help out my family.  I’m happy with who I am and what I do,” says Jorge.

It’s the middle of the day.  Jorge, short in stature and big in smiles, leaves his lunch on the table.  His mom and youngest sister are ready to be picked up from an appointment at the nearby health clinic.  I hop into the mini-van too, along with another one of his younger sisters. 

"So I don’t think I’ve ever been in a car with anyone as young as you!" I tell Jorge as I get into his mini van.

"Yeah, my dad started teaching me how to drive since I was like 14,” says Jorge as he pulls out of his driveway.

Jorge says he puts gas in the mini-van at least twice a day.  He seems to drive slow and safe; seat-belt on and he uses his blinkers.  But not too long ago he was stopped by police and ticketed.  Jorge says he thinks the police ran his license plate at a stop light and saw that the owner of the vehicle – his dad - did not have a driver’s license and neither did Jorge.  It was about $270 for the ticket and $1,000 for an attorney.  

“Hi, am I in your seat? I’m sorry!” I yell out the passenger side window as Jorge's mother and youngest sister climb into the backseat.

We just picked up the mom and baby sister and are heading back to the house.  Jorge and his sisters applied for the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program. And so did almost 15,000 other North Carolina Dreamers.  To apply costs $465 per person.  Jorge and his sisters got a loan from the Latino Community Credit Union. If approved, he’ll be able to get a North Carolina driver’s license.  He needs one.

"This is what I do everyday, yes.  Right now I’m about to go home and maybe rest a little bit and then I have to drop my sister off at work and then my mom at work.  They have different times they go in and different times they go out. And my other sister, are you going to the Latino Family Center today?" Jorge asks one of his sisters sitting in the back seat.  "She has a doctor’s appointment so I have to go back here."

Jorge is not happy about plans to mark the new licenses with a bold pink stripe and words ‘No Lawful Status.’  Some call it a modern-day scarlet letter.   Meanwhile, there’s talk in Raleigh about a bill to reinstate driving privileges to the undocumented.  A while back, the Department of Motor Vehicles said no social security number, no license.  If this measure is approved, long-time immigrants like Jorge’s father could legally drive again.  For now, Jorge is the man of the house.  His family is only at home for about 20 minutes.  Jorge finishes eating the sandwich he started an hour ago.  And he’s off again.

“Bye, you have a good day.  I have a long day still to go.  Good day.  Drive safe,” says Jorge.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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