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Racial Justice

The ACLU is dedicated to combating racial and ethnic bias and upholding racial equality in order to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have historically been denied their rights on the basis of race or ethnicity. Our Racial Justice Project works with local communities to investigate reports of racial profiling across North Carolina. 

By Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

In 2009, North Carolina made history by becoming the first state to pass a law that addressed the systemic problems of racial discrimination in jury selection in capital cases. In the three years since the Racial Justice Act (RJA) was enacted, this law has uncovered systemic discrimination. In four cases, North Carolina death row inmates presented sweeping evidence that racial discrimination in jury selection tainted their trials, and had their death sentences converted to life without parole under the law.

For the last year, the North Carolina legislature has been working to overturn this important legislation – the most recent threat to justice coming this week with the vote by State Senate repeal the RJA. North Carolina needs to preserve the RJA, as it should serve as model legislation that all states should adopt to stamp out the racial discrimination that runs rampant in capital cases nationwide.


RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation says a new design for driver’s licenses the N.C. Department of Transportation unveiled today for young immigrants receiving work permits through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) is a step in the right direction but that concerns about the licenses remain.

“This new look is a huge step in the right direction,” said Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. “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.”

The new license design is available at https://apps.ncdot.gov/newsreleases/details.aspx?r=7952


RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) today criticized a new Department of Transportation policy first reported by the Winston-Salem Journal that would issue specially marked driver’s licenses sometime this summer to immigrants who are in the United States legally. According to an article in today’s Winston-Salem Journal, the new licenses will be introduced this summer “to distinguish people who are not U.S. citizens.”

“North Carolina should not be making it harder for aspiring citizens to integrate and contribute to our communities by branding them with a second-class driver’s license,” said Raul Pinto, ACLU-NCLF Staff Attorney. “Immigrants from across the world contribute to North Carolina in countless ways, and there is simply no reason for officials to stigmatize people who are in the U.S. legally with an unnecessary marker that could lead to harassment, confusion, and racial profiling.”

The differently designed and branded licenses will reportedly be issued not only to legally present young immigrants receiving work permits and deferred action from the federal government, but also to legal permanent residents such as those who have been awarded green cards or are on a legal path to citizenship.


In a front-page story published in today’s USA Today, the results of our investigation of the comingling of local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in the southeast were made public.  During a “seatbelt” checkpoint conducted last May by the Jackson County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Office, ICE implemented one of its many initiatives to ensure that the number of criminal deportations  achieved the prior year’s level.  In simpler terms: a quota.

Why were ICE officers concerned with enforcing local seatbelt laws, you may be wondering? They weren’t.  They were there to interrogate drivers about their immigration status.   Many U.S. citizens and lawful residents were detained for up to 45 minutes on their way to work to prove their immigration status, and fifteen aspiring citizens were taken into ICE custody that morning.

The ACLU of North Carolina launched an investigation into this checkpoint, which included a Freedom of Information Act request to ICE.  The findings were disturbing.  Along with implementing a policy of participating in checkpoints throughout the southeast, ICE also proposed rummaging through North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles records for immigrants who applied for a driver’s license but could not meet the immigration requirements imposed by a 2006 state law.  Another ICE initiative was to deem individuals with no operator’s license as criminal aliens.


The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson on Dec. 20, charging that under his direction, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) has systematically and unlawfully targeted Latino residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions since at least 2007. The lawsuit asks a federal court to order Sheriff Johnson to refrain from discriminatory policing and for the ACSO to adopt and implement policies that would constitutionally protect and serve all county residents.

The ACLU and other groups have been receiving complaints about Johnson, his deputies, and their treatment of Latinos for years. But some of the alleged examples of Sheriff Johnson’s own prejudice and policing style outlined in the federal lawsuit – which resulted from a two-year investigation and interviews with more than 100 witnesses – are truly shocking.

Among them: