August 3, 2013
According to citation records, a Mexican tourist was issued a ticket for allegedly operating a motor vehicle without a license by the North Carolina Highway Patrol on July 22.
Ulises Romain Collazo of Mexico was driving a Ford pickup truck registered with Virginia license plates. Collazo states that he is visiting friends and family in the west coast, Virginia, and North Carolina.
According to Collazo, he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Dobson on Route 601.
Collazo indicated that the disparity in language with law enforcement made the routine traffic anything but routine.
Collazo alleges he provided the trooper with his Mexican-issued driver license. Collazo said he took a further step by supplying the trooper with a copy of his visa stamped by the Department of Homeland Security on May 24.
“The visa expires on Nov. 23,” said Collazo.
Tourists and immigrant advocates say North Carolina needs to set the record straight when it comes to recognizing foreign driver licenses.
“It’s a typical ‘ticket now and check facts later,’” said Angeline Echeverria, executive director for El Pueblo, Inc., an organization focused on the collective advancement of social justice issues relating to immigrants. “When these things happen, its a deterrent to tourism.”
Collazo says he wants to comply with the law. He believes his Mexican driver license was rejected by the officer.
“I just want to visit my family, and I need to drive between destinations. I want to always comply. What’s the answer?” asked Collazo.
“It’s confusing because I was allowed to drive away in the vehicle,” said Collazo.
According to state law, a valid driver’s license issued by a government agency from a home state or country allows the tourist to legally drive in North Carolina, said First Sgt. Jeff Gordon, public information officer for the State Highway Patrol.
“North Carolina does not accept international driver licenses,” Gordon said.
“If you are here temporarily and have no established residence, you are not required to get a North Carolina license,” confirmed Marge Howell with the Department of Motor Vehicles communications office. She said the license from the country or origin should be honored.
The DMV official also stated that it’s difficult to interpret all cases and citations, as they are left up to law enforcement and the courts.
“Neither of us were at the scene,” said Howell. “We don’t know if he ever produced a driver license.”
Collazo has a court date on September 6 in Dobson.
Calls to the trooper were not returned as of press time.
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.