RALEIGH — North Carolina should issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who qualify for federal work papers, the state’s top law enforcement authority said Thursday.
The office of Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, directed the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to begin issuing driver’s licenses to those granted federal work authorizations under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began accepting applications in August from immigrants brought to the United States without authorization as minors, granting those who qualify for work papers with an opportunity for renewal after two years.
North Carolina typically grants driver’s licenses to non-citizens with valid federal work papers. But before anyone under the new program applied for driver’s licenses, then-state DMV Commissioner Mike Robertson directed his agency in September not to issue any pending direction from the attorney general on whether doing so would violate state law.
In a three-page legal opinion issued Thursday, Cooper’s office told newly-appointed DMV Commissioner Eric Boyette that issuing licenses to DACA participants is not only legal, but the DMV is required to do so.
“It is therefore our opinion those individuals … are lawfully present in the United States during the period of deferment,” said the letter, which is signed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson G. Kelley. “As such, (state law), which states that DMV shall issue a driver’s license of limited duration to persons who present valid documentation demonstrating deferment and meet all other statutory requirements, requires that such licenses be issued.”
DMV Commissioner Eric Boyette said in a statement Thursday that officials “have just received the ruling from the Attorney General’s office regarding driver’s licenses for people in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program today and we are in the process of reviewing it.”
Gov. Pat McCrory’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The attorney general’s opinion comes two days after DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell said 13 people with DACA papers had been mistakenly issued licenses since September. Those licenses are to be cancelled until the legal questions are settled, Howell said Tuesday.
The issue sets up a potential conflict between Cooper and the Republican administration of McCrory, who took office earlier this month.
GOP lawmakers have been critical of the DACA program, which was enacted by the Obama administration in what the Democratic president described as the unwillingness of Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform.
Obama is a supporter of the Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for qualified young immigrants brought to the United States when they were children.
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