Immigrant Groups Fight License Bill

By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005

Latino and immigrant support groups are mobilizing against the proposed Real ID Act, a federal law that would prohibit states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

The act, which passed the House yesterday, would have a major impact in Maryland, one of 11 states where proof of legal presence in the United States is not required to obtain a license. Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, some states considered extending driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants to improve road safety, ensuring that those who drove had passed a state-sanctioned test.

Since 2001, however, licenses have become firmly tied to national security concerns. Virginia, where seven of the 19 hijackers obtained licenses or ID cards, is among several states that have since changed their laws. The District of Columbia requires proof of legal presence for a license.

The Senate is expected to pass the act this month as part of a supplemental appropriations bill for military operations in Iraq. President Bush has signaled support for the measure.

Immigrant support groups say Real ID would make roads less safe and could erode national security, not improve it.

"It will make millions of people that live in our nation hide even more," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa de Maryland, a Latino advocacy group. "They are going to keep driving, keep working, but now they are going to be even more scared to participate in our society, to cooperate with police on crime issues."

Casa de Maryland, the National Council of La Raza and other groups hope to draw as many as 5,000 immigrants to a protest rally tomorrow afternoon at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

Civil liberties groups contend the act would create what amounts to a national ID card that would make it easier for the federal government to keep tabs on private citizens.

State officials said they worry that the act would shift the burden -- and costs -- of immigration enforcement from the federal government to the states. Even states that already require proof of legal presence would have to revamp their systems to meet the more stringent requirements of the Real ID legislation.

In Virginia, for example, front-line workers at the Department of Motor Vehicles are trained to recognize real from forged birth certificates, passports and immigration documents used to verify "legal presence" in the U.S.

Real ID would go further, requiring documents to be compared against federal databases. States also would have to save copies of identification documents for seven to 10 years and save facial image scans of each license holder.

In addition to potentially costing the states millions of dollars to implement, the new measures could mean longer lines at the DMV and spell an end to walk-in, walk-out service to get a license.

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