CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - A bill introduced this week into the N.C. General Assembly will make it tougher for undocumented immigrants to drive unhindered in North Carolina.
House Bill 341, introduced by Oslow County Republican George Cleveland, would require officers to tow and store vehicles operated by a motorists charged with driving without a license – a crime common among the tens of thousands of people living illegally in the state.
The proposal was introduced Tuesday and quickly drew the attention of immigrant advocates because undocumented immigrants are not allowed to get a driver's license in the state. In NC, that amounts to an estimated 338,000 people, including 54,000 living illegally in Mecklenburg County.
"It's all part of a plan to intimidate and paralyze our community," said NC immigrant advocate Martha Hernandez, in an interview with the Spanish language news service EFE.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have a policy of showing leniency to unlicensed drivers, by allowing them to go free if they can produce any form of ID to prove their identity.
That practice has drawn criticism of state leaders, who see it as proof Charlotte is a so called "sanctuary city" for people in the country illegally.
However, Rep. Cleveland said through a spokeswoman that this bill is more about road safety than about singling out any group of violators.
"Rep. Cleveland also has a problem with the fact that after the non-licensed driver has been given a ticket, he is still allowed to drive away, thereby continuing to break the law," said a statement issued by Cleveland's office.
Data provided by Cleveland shows there were 58,741 charges related to driving without insurance and 126,704 charges for driving without a license in the N.C. last year. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles estimates there are 91,693 uninsured drivers on the road, and another 672,898 drivers with revoked/suspended licenses.
House Bill 341 states that someone caught driving without a license will need to have someone come pick up their vehicle within one hour of being stopped, or the vehicle will be towed and stored for a fee of no more than $10 a day.
The only way to get the vehicle back is to present a valid driver's license, or to prove the owner did not know an unlicensed driver was operating the vehicle when it was stopped by police.