Md. Motor Vehicle Administration Cancels Appointments for Illegal Immigrants

By Lisa Rein and Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration will cancel scheduled appointments for 8,000 immigrants applying for driver's licenses and has stopped booking them in advance of a new law that will curtail driving privileges for illegal immigrants starting June 1.

Every driver in the state will be affected by the change by having to present a Social Security card or other proof that they are in the country legally to get a license.

As news of the measure -- passed in the final hour of the General Assembly session Monday -- coursed through the immigrant community, officials mobilized to change computer programs and launch a public information campaign. The current system has allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to drive but has made Maryland vulnerable to fraud by out-of-state motorists.

Illegal immigrants who have licenses can renew them once for a driving permit before they are cut off July 1, 2015, a date set in a compromise bill muscled through the House of Delegates and the more conservative Senate. The permit will not provide access to federal buildings or commercial airplanes.

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to sign the bill next month. By joining 46 states that require lawful presence of drivers, Maryland will comply with the federal security law known as Real ID.

"Everyone applying for a license is affected," Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo said.

Through the Internet and a toll-free phone line, the agency has been booking 2,000 appointments a week for drivers who provide foreign documents that lack a U.S. visa stamp. The slots are so coveted that the system has a 60-day backlog. The 8,000 appointments for June filled last week. The MVA will send cancellation letters to those applicants, Kuo said.

Learner's permits issued before June 1 will be honored when their term expires, as long as the driver passes the written and road tests, Kuo said. The driving permit for renewing motorists without lawful status will read "not for federal purposes" on the front or back and might be issued in a different color than the current blue with a touch of yellow.

Under the measure, legal residents will have to show a Social Security card, W-2 form, pay stub or other document proving their identity "or they can't obtain a product," Kuo said. He said, however, that the MVA will ask the attorney general whether renewing motorists whose Social Security numbers are in the system can be exempted from providing the documentation.

Immigrants flooded radio stations and advocacy groups yesterday with anxious calls about the change. "It's only confusion," said Mario Quiroz-Servellón, spokesman for CASA of Maryland, the state's largest immigrant advocacy group.

The phones at Wheaton's Radio América 1540 AM were clogged all morning, said news director Samuel G. Gálvez. Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) and Prince George's County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) went on the airwaves to explain the change and answer questions. Although many callers were dismayed by the measure and saw it as evidence of growing anti-Hispanic sentiment, others recognize that the system was being abused by out-of-state residents looking to obtain a license fraudulently, Gálvez said.

His message to those who are undocumented and want licenses was simple: "Hurry up. I told them to put a rocket under their butts."

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