A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Stanford University study suggesting that granting driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants improves overall traffic safety. That approach is not an option in North Carolina, where unauthorized immigrants have been ineligible to obtain a driver’s license, learner’s permit or identification card since 2006. Recognizing that many unauthorized immigrants drive regardless of whether they are licensed, the district attorney in Orange and Chatham Counties announced this week a new policy for disposing of no operator’s license charges against such drivers, provided they meet certain conditions.
The News and Observer reports that the district attorney’s office in Orange and Chatham Counties will dismiss charges of no operator’s license, a Class 3 misdemeanor, if the person charged is ineligible to be licensed for immigration-related reasons and he or she provides an identification card and completes a driving school and civics education course. Orange County Justice United, a nonprofit advocacy group that lobbied for the change, has posted this overview of the deferral program on its website.
The overview document states that the program will not be available to individuals charged with no operator’s license in conjunction with other charges or who are ineligible to be licensed due to prior revocations, moving violations, unpaid tickets, or other offenses. Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall told reporters that the program would provide driver’s education to a group of citizens who had not before received that type of instruction and would help to build trust between the law enforcement and immigrant communities.
“Faith-IDs” are listed in the overview as a preferred type of identification for unauthorized immigrants to provide to the district attorney’s office. These identification cards are issued by FaithAction, a Greensboro organization that launched an initiative in 2013 to provide identification cards to North Carolina residents who lacked access to government issued forms of identification. The Greensboro Police Department has publicly supported the FaithAction’s efforts, sending Spanish-speaking officers to identification card events.
In 2016, more than 121,766 people were charged statewide with driving without a license. Slightly more than 2,000 people were charged with this offense in Orange and Chatham Counties last year. Orange County Justice United reports that 77 percent of drivers charged with no operator’s license in Orange and Chatham Counties from 2008 to 2015 were Latino. They did not report how many of these drivers would have been eligible for deferral under the new program.
In addition to avoiding a misdemeanor record, defendants whose charges are dismissed under the deferral program will not be assessed the $190 in court costs that apply to conviction of a misdemeanor Chapter 20 offense or the $50 fine that typically accompanies a no operator’s license conviction.