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Maryland criticized for denying licenses

ANNAPOLIS -- An immigration rights group says the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is violating state law by denying driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

"The MVA has absolutely no right to ask for people's Social Security number or immigration status to get a driver's license," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group for Hispanic immigrants that has staged protests at MVA offices.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said the agency requires documentation -- including a Social Security number -- to verify a person's identity, not the person's immigration status. He said the check is performed in accordance with state and federal laws.

"No one is targeted," Mr. Flanagan said. "We have evaluated the law very carefully, and we have a duty to make sure when someone applies for a driver's license that their identity is ascertained correctly."

The group has demonstrated in front of the MVA office in Beltsville and issued a list of demands, including an end to the so-called immigration screenings and increased hiring of bilingual MVA workers to serve customers who do not speak English.

Similar protests were conducted in other states last week by other immigration rights groups to promote policies such as giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

Still, drivers waiting to get licenses yesterday at the MVA office in Annapolis supported a check of Social Security numbers and immigration papers.

"You shouldn't have a problem with it if you have nothing to hide," said Loretta L. Brenner, a 30-year-old homemaker from Deale who was getting a duplicate driver's license.

Todd Christner, a telecommunications worker who recently relocated from Arizona and was getting a Maryland driver's license, said the state has to scrutinize people seeking driver's licenses.

"People should be able to identify who they are," he said. "With the threat of terrorism, there has to be a way to find out who is coming in."

Len Owens, a 58-year-old engineer from Bowie, said a document check should not prevent legal immigrants from getting driver's licenses.

"You should have proof [of identity], especially if you are an immigrant, because you know it is going to come up," he said, adding that illegal aliens shouldn't be able to obtain driver's licenses.

According to CASA of Maryland's 2003-04 annual report, the advocacy group was founded in 1985, is based in Takoma Park and has a $3.6 million fiscal 2005 budget and 42 staffers. Its donors include churches, civic groups, local governments and the federal government.

Maryland law does not bar illegal aliens from receiving driver's licenses, and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has killed legislation to change that over the past several years.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, never publicly has taken a position on driver's licenses for illegal aliens but has supported establishing a task force to study the issue. The legislature has not passed a bill authorizing such a study.

More than 20 states have laws prohibiting illegal aliens from obtaining driver's licenses. Virginia recently enacted such restrictions in response to public outrage that its lax security enabled the September 11, 2001, hijackers to obtain state IDs.

To obtain a Maryland driver's license, an applicant must show proof of identity, age and residence in the state. Proof of identity can be a birth certificate, court change-of-name order, valid foreign passport with visa or valid immigration documents.

Applicants also must produce a primary source of identification or two secondary sources of identification.

A primary source would be a Social Security card, an out-of-state driver's license, an out-of-country driver's license or a green card. Secondary sources include a Selective Service card, handgun permit, voter registration card, utility bill or marriage license, according to state law.

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