NYT's Severson: 'Some' Say ID Stripe on Illegals' Drivers Licenses Are 'Modern-Day Scarlet Letter'

No good deed goes unpunished? In a compromise move, North Carolina officials will issue drivers licenses to young illegal immigrants who have won deferrals from deportation, but with a distinguishing colored marking on the licenses – a pink stripe. New York Times Atlanta bureau chief Kim Severson likened the stripe to "a modern-day scarlet letter" in "North Carolina to Give Some Immigrants Driver's Licenses, With a Pink Stripe."

Severson insisted in her Wednesday story from Raleigh that "some are calling" it that, though she doesn't quote anyone using that memorable term.

In a move some are calling a modern-day scarlet letter and others say is the best way to manage changing federal immigration policy, North Carolina this month will begin giving some young immigrants driver’s licenses marked with a bold pink stripe and the words “no lawful status” printed in red.

(A web search suggests the main people calling it "a modern-day scarlet letter" are Severson's fellow aggrieved liberal journalists.)

The licenses were developed as a way for the state to cope with a quirk in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Obama administration began last year to deal with the as many as 1.7 million young immigrants across the country who were brought to the United States by their parents and have been living here illegally since.

Under the program, young people who qualify receive deferrals from deportation for two years. They are no longer illegal, but they do not become fully legal either.

While the program allows them work permits, many still need to drive to their jobs. So in January, the federal agency that administers the program determined that immigrants with deferrals were just legal enough to qualify for driver’s licenses.


But for some of the nearly 15,000 people who have applied for status under the deferred action program in North Carolina, the pink-tinged licenses are humiliating. They say the licenses could set them up for more harassment in a state that, like many, is struggling to cope with changing demographics.

“More than anything, it’s that we are already targeted,” said Jose Rico, 23, whose parents arrived in the United States from Mexico on a tourist visa when he was 13 and have never left.

Mr. Rico is studying engineering at a Durham community college and is part of the N. C. Dream Team, a grass-roots organization of illegal immigrant youth.

He worries that with a pink-striped license he will get harassed at bars, banks and airports -- the places where people regularly present a driver’s license without a second thought.


Members of religious groups in North Carolina have also criticized the state’s decision to issue the licenses.

When Rabbi John Friedman told members of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham about the new licenses at services Friday, he said he heard an audible gasp. He and other clergy members are encouraging their followers to stick a piece of pink tape on their licenses in solidarity and protest.

“It’s punitive,” said the Rev. Richard Edens of the United Church of Chapel Hill. “It just continues a sense of shame and humiliation.”

Severson is evidently still nursing worries that North Carolina is drifting to the right (meanwhile, reporter Kirk Johnson eagerly documents any evidence he can find of Western states shifting to the left).