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Julianna Rennie
By Julianna Rennie September 30, 2019

Did Pat McCrory help immigrants get driver's licenses?

A conservative pundit called out former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory for taking a liberal stance on immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses.

During a recent appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, Laura Ingraham and Michelle Malkin discussed Republican Dan Bishop’s victory in the 9th Congressional District race. Malkin praised Bishop for his commitment to the conservative agenda and suggested that other Republicans had gone astray. She said, "It was a previous North Carolina governor who was a Republican who shepherded in driver's licenses for illegal aliens in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

Malkin is a political blogger, commentator, and author whose work focuses on immigration and corruption. She appeared on the show to discuss her new book, "Open Borders Inc.: Who's Funding America's Destruction?" 

Her claim seemed fishy to us for a few reasons. First, the state didn’t have a Republican governor until over a decade after 9/11. Also, North Carolina isn’t among the 14 states and territories that allow immigrants living in the country illegally to get a driver’s license. There’s actually a bill in the General Assembly to do this, but it hasn’t passed.

So, we decided to look into her claim and found there was little to support it. 

We assume she was talking about former Governor Pat McCrory, because he was the only Republican to hold the office since 9/11. During his term, DACA recipients became eligible for driver’s licenses. However, McCrory opposed allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to get drivers’ licenses. It’s quite a stretch for Malkin to say he "shepherded in" those privileges.

Limitations on driver’s licenses for immigrants in NC

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to make immigrants living in the country illegally eligible for driver’s licenses, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures in July 2019. North Carolina is not one of them.

That wasn’t always the case. In the 1990s and early 2000s, those immigrants could get driver’s licenses in North Carolina. In a New York Times article from August 2001, Wayne Hurder, the state’s director of driver’s license certification, explained the reasoning behind the policy.

''We think it's in the best interests of everyone in the state if we can get them to learn the laws of the road and get insurance. It's not our job to get into national immigration policy — this is a purely practical decision," Hurder said at the time. 

But in response to 9/11, Congress launched several efforts to strengthen domestic security. The REAL ID Act of 2005 mandated states to require proof of citizenship for REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards. REAL IDs are required by federal agencies for people who want to access federal facilities, board federally-regulated airplanes, and enter nuclear power plants. The law is being phased in with a final deadline in October 2020.

In 2005, then-Governor Mike Easley, a Democrat, followed the mandate and signed a law that specified driver’s license applicants must provide a valid Social Security Number, which prevented immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from getting licenses. Before then, applicants could provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead. 

In recent years, a group of Democratic state representatives have been pushing another bill called the Safer Roads and Communities Act. It also would enable those immigrants to get licenses. The bill’s supporters argue that if more drivers are trained and insured, roads will be safer for everyone.

DACA recipients are eligible 

We reached out to Malkin about her claim but did not hear back. It seems likely that she was referring to a policy change in 2013 to allow immigrants who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to get North Carolina driver’s licenses. (They are a small subset of the immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, accounting for about 15%.)

Pat McCrory, who is the only Republican governor since 9/11, was in office at the time. Neither the REAL ID Act of 2005 nor the recent bills in the General Assembly were in play during his term.

DACA was a program established under President Barack Obama that would defer deportation for "Dreamers" — young immigrants who illegally entered the United States as children — who met certain criteria. Immigrants with the new status could apply for a Social Security card and legally work in the United States.

But the North Carolina DMV wasn’t sure how to handle driver’s license applications from DACA recipients and asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. In January 2013, then Attorney General Roy Cooper released a legal opinion that said DACA recipients were entitled to driver’s licenses.

When we asked McCrory about the policy, he emphasized that the driver’s licenses issued to DACA recipients included the phrases "Legal Presence" and "No Lawful Status." The former governor said, "We were following the law reluctantly."

McCrory also told us that he opposed expanding driver’s license eligibility to immigrants living here illegally. When a 2015 bill was introduced that proposed to do just that, McCrory’s legislative liaison told lawmakers, "He is concerned with the provision providing driving privileges to those who are in this country unlawfully."

Our ruling

Michelle Malkin said former Republican Governor Pat McCrory "shepherded in driver’s licenses for illegal aliens in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

For the most part, her claim isn’t supported by the facts.

North Carolina hasn’t allowed unauthorized immigrants to get driver’s licenses since 2006, when a Democratic governor signed an act requiring driver’s license applicants to provide a valid Social Security Number. We found widely varying estimates on the number of people living in North Carolina illegally who are currently ineligible for driver’s licenses.

Although North Carolina decided to allow DACA recipients to access driver’s licenses during McCrory’s tenure as governor, he said he followed that "reluctantly" and did not support making the larger population of immigrants living here illegally eligible for driver’s licenses. 

We rate the claim Mostly False.

Editor's note: This item has been updated with comments from former Gov. Pat McCrory.

Our Sources

Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, Sept. 10, 2019

Phone interview, Pat McCrory, former governor of North Carolina, Sept. 30, 2019

Email interview, Pat Ryan, deputy chief of staff for communications for state Sen. Phil Berger, Sept. 27, 2019

Email interview, David Fraccaro, executive director of FaithAction International House, Sept, 25, 2019

North Carolina General Assembly, HB 749, 2017

North Carolina General Assembly, HB 829, 2019

National Conference on State Legislatures, "States Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants," July 16, 2019

Popular Government, "The Impact of North Carolina Driver’s License Requirements

and the REAL ID Act of 2005 on Unauthorized Immigrants," 2009

New York Times, "In U.S. Illegally, Immigrants Get License to Drive," Aug. 4, 2001

Raleigh News & Observer, "GOP legislators file bill to give undocumented immigrants limited IDs," April 12, 2017

ABC 11, "NC legislation would help undocumented residents get driver's license," April 9, 2019

CNN, "North Carolina debuts driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants," March 25, 2013

WRAL, "DMV will issue driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants," Feb. 14, 2013

INDY Week, "Roy Cooper to DMV: Some undocumented immigrants can be issued driver's licenses," Jan. 17, 2013

WUNC, "Undocumented Immigrants Could Apply For NC Driving Permits Under Republican Plan," June 9, 2015

USA Today, "Who are the DACA DREAMers and how many are here?" Feb. 13, 2018

Bipartisan Policy Center, "How do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Federal Taxes? An Explainer," March 28, 2018

Greensboro News & Record, "Political collision likely over licensing," Jan. 19, 2005

Department of Homeland Security, "REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions for the Public"

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