- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

A group dedicated to preventing another September 11 terrorist attack said a recent discrimination lawsuit against Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration would widen the gaps in licensing standards, making it more likely to provide terrorists with identification.

“What people need to realize is that there are terrorist-exploited loopholes in our system,” said Elza Chapa-McGowan, a member of 9/11 Families for a Secure America who is Hispanic. “I think most Americans would say this is unacceptable and we need to start tightening our security.”

The immigrant advocacy-group CASA of Maryland filed the suit last week on behalf of 13 immigrants who say the agency’s routine rejection of proper documentation and lack of Spanish-language materials and interpreters make it difficult for them to obtain licenses.

The suit has reignited the larger debate between advocacy groups who say barring immigrants from licenses puts uninsured drivers on roads and lobbyists who say issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens may draw more of them and potential terrorists to Maryland.

CASA legal director Steve Smitson said issuing licenses to immigrants improves national security because it requires them to register with the government.

Licensing also creates a database that police can use to match the addresses and identities of immigrant and alien criminals and victims, he said.

Josh Bernstein, senior policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center, said barring immigrants from licenses, identification cards and other documents makes the papers valuable on the black market, which is exploited by terrorists.

“When you force people to create a black market, that is the worst thing you can do to combat terrorism,” he said.

The 19 September 11 hijackers obtained at least 13 driver’s licenses and 21 identification cards from various states, including Virginia, the group said.

Maryland, which does not require legal presence for license applicants, was among six states with the most lax licensing standards, according to a report last year by the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, another post-September 11 group.

Virginia and the District, which verify the legal presence, visa expiration date and Social Security number of a license applicant, ranked in the highest category.

Several Maryland lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed legislation that would bar the state’s estimated 300,000 illegals from driver’s licenses and day-labor centers.

The 9/11 Families group earlier this year lobbied Congress to pass the Real ID Act, which creates a national standard for driver’s licenses so all states would have to prove legal presence before issuing a license. It takes effect in 2008.

Still, Mrs. Chapa-McGowan, a Laurel resident whose mother died in the September 11 Pentagon attack, worries that a win by CASA would send the wrong message to terrorists.

“It would hurt Maryland’s reputation,” she said. “You don’t want to be soft on terrorism.”

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