Luz Maria Sanchez is wide awake at 6 a.m. at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), having arrived at midnight to be first in a line of about 50 immigrants and illegal aliens waiting for the Beltsville branch to open.
“I’m tired. I haven’t slept,” said Miss Sanchez, a 34-year-old Salvadoran immigrant living in Hyattsville. “But [if I want a driver’s license] I have to wait.”
Overnight lines outside several MVA branches have evolved since the agency last month stopped taking appointments for immigrants to get driver’s licenses and began a walk-in process.
Maryland license applicants do not have to be U.S. citizens, needing only to produce a variety of documents to prove state residency as well as attend a three-hour drug and alcohol course.
Immigrants and illegal aliens arrive at the MVA as early as 11 p.m., napping in cars in hopes of seeing an agent when the office opens at 7 a.m. — an hour and a half before doors open to the general public. When the walk-in process began, some said they returned up to five nights — skipping school or work — because agents could not see the hundreds waiting for a limited number of spots.
“It feels like … discrimination because we are the only people who have to do this,” said William Medina, a Salvadoran immigrant on a tourist visa who lives in Oxon Hill. “I think it’s something to make you quit, to make you say you don’t want to do this anymore. But they are wrong. I will be here every day because I want to do things the right way and follow the law.”
But MVA officials say each person in line is guaranteed a chance to go through the agency’s pre-screening process, which weeds out applicants who have insufficient or incorrect documents.
“With our current walk-in procedure, twice as many people are actually getting processed than when we were doing the appointments,” said MVA spokesman Buel Young.
Nearly two years ago, the agency began scheduling appointments for out-of-country applicants because the lengthy document verification process snarled regular lines. They began the walk-in process on April 17 because a 40 percent no-show rate and documentation problems rendered appointments ineffective, Mr. Young said.
Mr. Young acknowledged reports of as many as 200 people last month, and up to 100 last week, waiting outside some branches. Applicants would tussle in line when some tried to jump ahead, and MVA employees said some would urinate outside their cars during the long wait for the doors to open.
However, the number of cars lining the Beltsville MVA entrance this week was considerably fewer than the dozens that typically wrap around the corner and block traffic, an employee said. The immigrants have created their own waiting list, not recognized by the state, and quietly lined up as the MVA gates opened.
About half of the applicants are barred during pre-screenings because they have the wrong documents, Mr. Young said. “They’re instructed [during pre-screenings] on what they need and advised if they have to come back with the information,” he said.
Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for the immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland, said the new process has improved backlogs, but there is still a gap in the quality of services for U.S.- and foreign-born license applicants, noting “the MVA isn’t even explaining to people what they need, so they’re making multiple trips to provide the four or five documents that they need.”
That process puts immigrants’ lives in danger, she said, indicating a lack of control at the sites. “At the Glen Burnie site, people wait across an eight-lane highway and have to make a mad dash across it,” she said.
Last year, CASA sued the MVA, saying among other things its appointment process was discriminatory because it separates foreign-born applicants from the general public. The case is pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.