- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

A group of September 11 relatives has filed papers in a Maryland court seeking to become a defendant in a lawsuit it says is aimed at forcing the state Motor Vehicle Administration to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens.

The case, brought in November by immigrant advocacy and service organizations, charges that the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration illegally discriminates against foreign-born applicants for licenses.

“Because the Maryland attorney general has expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs’ position [in the case] we are seeking to become defendants to prevent a sweetheart deal,” said Peter Gadiel of the group 9/11 Families for a Secure America.

All the September 11 suicide attackers had driver’s licenses or state-issued identity cards that they used to board the planes they hijacked, though most were in the country illegally.

Maryland is one of eight states without a legal-presence requirement — a law mandating that applicants for licenses prove they are in the country legally — according to the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, a group that advocates for such measures and for increased document security features.

“The problem is, if you are issuing licenses to illegals, you don’t know whether there are terrorists among them,” Mr. Gadiel said.

Under the state’s law, MVA “may not deny a license to an individual because he or she is unable to prove lawful presence in this country,” according to a legal opinion from Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

But the opinion also says the agency can ask for immigration-related documents as a form of proof of identity. “Although lawful residence status is not a pre-requisite for a driver’s license, [MVA] could determine that official immigration-related documentation is helpful in establishing a person’s identification and, when other satisfactory documentation is unavailable, could require such information,” the opinion says.

The agency’s Web site lists “valid foreign passport with visa” and several other immigration-related documents as one of the primary sources of identity. But there are more than a dozen other primary sources, including baptismal certificates and foreign driver’s licenses.

Applicants must present at least one primary-source document with their applications.

But the lawsuit charges that the agency is not following its own procedures, according to a spokesman for Casa de Maryland Inc., a nonprofit serving the state’s Hispanic community and one of the groups that brought the action.

“There’s no uniform process,” Dario Muralles said. “It’s a matter of luck [for immigrants applying]. If they find an employee [of the agency] who is sympathetic, they will get a license.”

Mr. Gadiel’s group also backs the introduction of a legal-presence requirement into Maryland law, in advance of a federal law, the Real ID Act of 2005, that will require much tighter rules in states by 2008.


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