When it comes to our treatment of immigrants in North Carolina, we most often fall far short of decency.
Here in the Triad, housing conditions for recent immigrants can be dangerous and otherwise inadequate. Healthcare for immigrants is notoriously substandard. Our schools are not optimized for immigrant children — children in Guilford County schools alone speak more than 100 different languages. And local law enforcement agencies rarely speak anything other than English, often poorly at that.
Rooted in fear and xenophobia, our mistreatment of newcomers ignores the fact that the bulk of our agricultural state’s economy is built almost entirely on the labor of recent immigrants. They’re the ones who pick the tobacco and strawberries, process the chickens and hogs.
It ignores another reality about life in North Carolina as well: Life is exceedingly difficult here without a car, especially outside of our cities and the corridors of public transportation. Undocumented immigrants are denied drivers licenses in NC. But that does not mean that they don’t drive. They must drive, just like the rest of us — to get to work, to run errands, for emergencies. But without licenses, they cannot be insured or even properly register their vehicles.
This denial of reality causes all sorts of problems out there on the actual road.
HB 311, filed in March by Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) and Rep. Ricky Hurtado (D-Alamance), addresses this situation directly.
It simply authorizes the DMV to issue restrictive drivers licenses to immigrants, regardless of immigration status, as long as they can provide some basic ID — Faith Action ID counts here — and pass the written and road tests.
The licenses will have a different design than the state Real ID, and will expire in two years. As written into the law, the information gathered for these cannot be used in criminal or immigration proceedings, nor can the applications be used to initiate immigration investigations.
This is a great law, addressing problems that affect everyone who drives on our roads, which is all of us. It acknowledges reality, and offers an actual, workable solution so simple that it could be implemented almost immediately.
Within a day of its filing last month, HB 311 went off to committee, where bills often go to die. But interest in the bill hasn’t waned. It just needs the votes.