WASHINGTON — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he signed off on the controversial “pink licenses” that will be issued to some young illegal immigrants who were granted protection from deportation for two years.

The new North Carolina governor said he thought it was important that the driver’s licenses for immigrants clearly distinguish “between legal presence versus legal status.”

Critics have decried them as a modern-day scarlet letter. The licenses will have a bright pink stripe and bold words “NO LAWFUL STATUS,” written in red capital letters across the front, according to mock-ups.

McCrory said he wanted to make sure the licenses were granted but also ensure that they clearly differed in appearance from other licenses issued by the state to prevent misuse. “I thought it was a very sound resolution based upon on federal and attorney general’s ruling,” McCrory said.

After weeks of controversy, North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced this month that licenses would be issued to thousands of participants in the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It blocks deportation and grants a two-year work permit to undocumented youths who came to the United States before they turned 16, are not older than 30, and are high school graduates, attend college or have served in the military.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles said it would grant licenses to immigrants in that class. But then the department delayed a decision until it received a legal opinion from Attorney General Roy Cooper. Last month, Cooper’s office said those in the program should be eligible for driving privileges.

Last week, a group of Republican legislators, including state Rep. Mark Brody, R-Monroe, introduced a bill to put a moratorium on issuing the licenses. Brody said Tata overstepped his authority. The department is supposed to begin issuing licenses on March 25 to participants who pass tests and provide documentation.

More than 15,600 people in North Carolina have been accepted to the federal program announced in June. An estimated 18,000 are eligible.

Critics of the new license design, such as Armando Bellmas of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, charged that the proposed license design was “discriminatory” and created a class of “inferior citizens.” “The way these licenses have been issued is a direct attack on the immigrant community in North Carolina,” he said in a statement.

McCrory is in Washington this weekend for the National Governors Association Conference winter meeting and discussions on the economy, health care, national security and natural resources.