BENSON, N.C. — Luz Gonzalez used to take spur-of-the-moment trips to the beach. Now, she's afraid to drive to the doctor for checkups on her new pregnancy. She and her husband, Ismael, can no longer have a savings account or a car registered in their names. Every time they drive to church, they watch for the flash of blue lights in the mirror.
The Gonzalezes, who identified themselves by only one of their two surnames, are among many illegal immigrants in North Carolina who are beginning a new life — one without driver's licenses. A 2006 state law made it impossible for illegal immigrants to renew their licenses. The change was talked about mostly as a tool to combat terrorism — several of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks had licenses.
But it's also created a crisis in the Hispanic community and a potential hazard on the roads. As licenses issued under the old rules expire, advocates and law enforcement authorities say many illegal immigrants, who number an estimated 300,000 in North Carolina, are now driving without licenses or insurance.
"They do not want to be driving without licenses, but it's coming to a point where they can't do things the right way," said Tony Asion, president of the Hispanic advocacy group El Pueblo. "Realistically, you're not going to ride a bicycle all around the state."
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