A Step in the Right Direction: NC Drops Offensive Pink Driver’s License Stripe

Facing mounting criticism both statewide and nationally, the NC Department of Transportation has backed off from the now-infamous “pink stripe” design for driver’s licenses that will be issued to young immigrants. The original pink design, which was an administrative decision made behind closed doors, ended up receiving national media coverage, including major outlets like USA Today, Reuters and the NY Times. The redesigned licenses will retain the problematic wording: “Legal Presence / No Lawful Status.”

Dozens of faith communities and religious leaders from across theological traditions weighed in against the controversial license. Here at the NC Council of Churches, we quickly published a “Pink Tape Protest” packet after hearing about the idea from one of our active churches (thanks, United Church of Chapel Hill!). The packet has been viewed nearly 1,500 times with many congregations participating over the last two weeks. In addition, the response of the Jewish community has been especially powerful. Sixteen prominent Jewish leaders in NC signed a letter to Gov. McCrory asking him to change his mind, and a group of rabbis delivered the letter to his office in person. Here’s an excerpt:

We are especially shocked that the day these pink driver’s licenses go into effect will be the eve of Passover – March 25th. On that evening, Jewish families throughout your state and around the world will be retelling the Bible’s story of the Exodus from Egypt. That night, Jewish families and their guests will call to mind that our people were oppressed strangers in the land of Egypt. Particularly during this holiday, our community is reminded to stand in solidarity with vulnerable strangers in our own time: immigrants from other lands. We deeply wish that our people had been treated according to this principle in the many societies in which we lived as outsiders. As Americans we affirm our national tradition of welcoming immigrants to our shores and borders. We are proud to be citizens of a free and democratic nation and we hope that you will join us in keeping the America’s spirit of freedom and inclusion alive.

For these reasons, we urge you to do what is morally right and rescind this discriminatory policy.

Media reports are widely crediting these efforts by faith communities as a factor in this policy reversal.

Looking Ahead

In response to the removal of the pink stripe and inclusion of the “Legal Presence / No Lawful Status” wording, Rabbi Eric Solomon of Temple Beth Meyer in Raleigh said: “Our efforts do not end when major discrimination turns into minor discrimination; it ends when we are 100 percent positive that discriminatory policies will not go into effect in our state.” There is still a long way to go to ensure that immigrants are welcomed in our communities and congregations. But I am glad that our leaders listened to our request to remove the offensive pink stripe. As Raul Pinto of ACLU-NC said last week: “This new look is a huge step in the right direction. By eliminating the bright pink stripe and adding the words ‘legal presence,’ this new design should help reduce the chances that young immigrants receiving deferred action will face discrimination or harassment when they show their driver’s license. However, we still question the necessity of including distinguishing language such as ‘no lawful status’ on the licenses and will be watching closely to see how these changes are implemented.”

Here’s more background on this dramatic turn of events from the Raleigh News & Observer:

RALEIGH — After weeks of protest from civil rights lawyers, immigrant advocates, Democrats and religious leaders, the state Division of Motor Vehicles revealed Thursday that it has removed an unpopular pink stripe from the design of driver’s licenses that will be issued, starting next week, to young immigrants in a federal program that postpones their deportation for two years.

The new design reverts to the color scheme of a standard license, with added language in red letters that says: “LEGAL PRESENCE / NO LAWFUL STATUS” and “LIMITED TERM.”

A DMV spokesman refused Thursday to discuss or even address the criticism of the original design. He said the change made it easier for the DMV to produce the new licenses more efficiently. The standardized design will be similar to those of other licenses issued for limited duration to groups such as visiting students and agriculture workers…

But the praise turned to protest when critics assailed the original pink-stripe design, similar in color to a pink banner on the federal work permit. They said the striped license would open immigrant drivers to racial profiling and other discrimination. They invoked the Holocaust, when Nazis marked Jews with yellow stars.

DMV did not announce Thursday that the license had been redesigned. A facsimile of the new, pink-free version was distributed with guidelines for young immigrants who will visit DMV offices across the state, starting Monday, to apply for driver’s licenses.

Click here to read more.

-Chris Liu-Beers, Program Associate


  1. Matt Ernst says

    As you can tell from the photo in this post, North Carolina has Driver Licenses, not Driver’s Licenses.

    • Chris Liu-BeersChris Liu-Beers says

      Thanks for the head’s up, Matt. As far as I know, “Driver’s License” is AP style which we try to follow here.

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