DACA should sanction licenses

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 05:11 PM

An increasing number of people in the United States, it appears, are becoming more comfortable with the idea that illegal immigrants should have some pathway to eventually become U. S. citizens.

The welcome shift in attitudes is most recently reflected in an Associated Press-GfK poll released this week.

“Sixty-two percent of Americans now favor providing a way for illegal immigrants in the U. S. to become citizens,” an Associated Press story on the poll reported.

The story noted the significant shift in attitudes in a relatively short period.  The last time the news service asked the question, in the summer of 2010, just 50 percent favored a path to citizenship. A year before, the percentage was 47.

Those shifts in attitudes – and the growing prospect of a serious, realistic national immigration policy, with some bipartisan consensus – are especially important in Durham. The U. S. Census reports that 13.5 percent of the county’s residents – nearly one in seven of us – are Hispanic. And because at least some of our Hispanic neighbors are undocumented and likely to be uncounted by the census, that number is undoubtedly higher in actuality.

The reality of the important role Hispanics play in our economy and our civic life, coupled with the shifting public attitudes, should help ensure the right decision on an issue pending in Raleigh.

The state’s Division of Motor Vehicles recently suspended issuing driver’s licenses to young Latino adults who have qualified to live here legally under a federal program that allows them to forestall deportation for two years.

The program, initiated by President Barack Obama by executive order last year, is aimed at young adults whose parents brought them into the country illegally as children.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper last week, responding to a DMV request for an opinion, concluded that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program’s work permits conferred “legal presence” on recipients – and that they should then quality for driver’s licenses.

New Transportation Secretary Tony Tata has not yet said whether he will instruct DMV to comply with that ruling.

He should.  Republicans nationally are recognizing that a more generous approach to immigration reform is in the party’s best interests politically – Tata has an opportunity to acknowledge that in this instance.