- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A group of immigrants has sued the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, saying the agency discriminates against foreign-born applicants by denying them driver’s licenses or making it more difficult for them to get the licenses.

The 13 immigrants, whose legal statuses could not be determined yesterday, argue that the MVA requires foreign-born applicants to show more proof of their identity and residency than those who were born in the U.S.

They also charge that the MVA does not provide Spanish-language materials, interpreters or appointment verification mailings as is required by law when at least 3 percent of a state agency’s population does not speak English.

About 4 percent of Marylanders speak Spanish, according to CASA of Maryland, one of two immigration advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit yesterday in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

“The MVA is in violation of their own law,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA of Maryland. “The reality is that even if you don’t have work authorization and Social Security in this country, you are entitled to have a driver’s license in Maryland. You don’t have to” be legal.

Buel C. Young, a spokesman for MVA, said the agency is trying to streamline the process. However, he could not comment on the immigrants’ claim that the MVA denies driver’s licenses to foreign-born applicants.

“It’s an individual case-by-case basis because you and I could be from the same country and provide different documents as our proof sources,” he said. “So without knowing the individual’s case, I can’t comment on that.”

Mr. Young said the agency began offering group appointments for foreign-born applicants more than a year ago to prevent long lines from forming when MVA clerks had trouble verifying documents.

“As a matter of convenience for both applicants that are going through the out-of-country process and the regular run-of-the-mill applicant, we moved to an appointment process to assist our overall operations,” he said.

Mr. Young also said that not every branch is equipped to handle foreign-born applicants and that a number of factors create backlogs.

“We have backlogs based on people that have scheduled appointments and don’t show,” he said. And, “approximately 35 percent of [appointment verification] letters are returned undeliverable.”

As for the lack of Spanish-language materials at MVA, Mr. Young told the Associated Press that there are 28 Spanish-speaking MVA employees out of 800 who deal with the public in issuing driver’s licenses statewide.

He said handbooks and driver’s tests are available in Spanish, but acknowledges that officials are still working toward improving procedures, such as the phone system, which has a portion that is only available in English.

“The state law says that you take reasonable steps to provide reasonable access,” Mr. Young told the AP. “And the MVA has taken steps and we will continue to take steps to provide access.”

The lawsuit comes several weeks after a new poll showed that 83 percent of Maryland voters favor legislation that would require most state and local government business to be conducted in English.

The poll conducted by nonpartisan Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies bolsters Maryland lawmakers including Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, seeking to make English the official state language.

CASA officials yesterday would not say whether any illegal aliens were represented in the lawsuit.

Mr. McDonough said yesterday that if the lawsuit forces MVA to provide Spanish-language materials to illegals, he will fight the ruling.

“I’m going to introduce legislation that would prohibit or knock off that ruling,” he said. “Remember the courts are not lawmakers, the courts only interpret, and unfortunately, sometimes they think they’re the legislators. We have the power to overrule that decision by the court.”

Over the years, Maryland has grappled with issues involving immigration and illegal aliens.

Mr. McDonough said Maryland’s illegal population has increased from about 75,000 to an estimated 300,000 in the past three years because the state has a reputation for being friendly to illegal aliens.

Maryland does not require that those who apply for a driver’s license be legal U.S. residents. Virginia requires applicants — U.S.- or foreign-born — to provide proof of legal presence in the U.S. and two pieces of identification and proof of residency through a walk-in process.

Earlier this year, Congress passed the Real ID Act, which will create a national standard under which all states would be required to collect proof of legal residency before issuing a driver’s license to any applicant.

“What CASA is doing flies in the face of the intentions of the Real ID Act and creates potential harm for the citizens of Maryland,” said Mr. McDonough, who has previously proposed legislation to bar illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses.

The legislation failed.

“They will not tell the truth [about the immigration status of the plaintiffs] because their organization does not recognize the federal law,” he said. “You cannot ignore our laws, then at the same time use our courts to promote a lawless policy, and I think that’s what they’re doing.”

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