A group in North Carolina is asking in an open letter to lawmakers for the state to once again issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Maudia Melendez, executive director of the Charlotte-based Jesus Ministry, says her group has been working for a year on a project that has the support of more than 6,000 citizens.

"We can't let this issue die," Melendez told Efe on Thursday. "A change in the law is necessary for public safety, prevention of crimes and economic progress."

Under her proposal, immigrants pay a $50 fee for a license that has to be renewed every two years. They would be subject to a criminal background check and would have to prove they are North Carolina residents.

"We've talked with several legislators and gone around the counties seeking support and people have responded positively. Undocumented people see themselves forced to drive without a license because they have to support their families," she said.

Between Jan. 1, 2002, and Aug. 28, 2006, the state Department of Motor Vehicles issued 220,982 driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants who could supply a taxpayer identification number.

However, the measure motivated immigrants from other parts of the country to come to North Carolina to get a driver's license, which spurred lawmakers to approve a law in 2006 preventing undocumented people from obtaining state-issued identification and driver's licenses.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that around 325,000 of the state's more than 800,000 Latino residents are undocumented.

"People are desperate to have some driving permit and fall into the traps of opportunistic people when they promise some kind of documents. If (the government) gave licenses, it would reduce fraud," said Melendez.

The North Carolina DMV has undertaken several investigations involving the production of false licenses and obtaining documents in a fraudulent manner that have led to several arrests.

DMV spokesperson Margaret Howell told Efe that the most recent case occurred in the Charlotte area, where the department began to send hundreds of letters to Hispanics to notify them to return their vehicle title and registration documents.

Three Hispanics were arrested in August and charged with obtaining at least 600 documents from the DMV using the names of fake businesses and non-existent people.

One of those affected, Danny Galindo, told the newspaper Hola Noticias in Charlotte that he does not understand why the DMV sent him the letter, since he got the title for his car in the name of the painting company he formed legally.

His wife, Jessica Cerecedo, said that "he drives by the grace of God" because he needs to take the children here and there, go shopping and go to work. EFE