A March 19 Metro article stated that a coalition of Hispanic groups wants Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to delay the date when a new driver's license bill would take effect, but gave the wrong date. The group said that if the governor does not veto the measure, it wants him to delay the bill's effective date until July 1, 2004. (Published 3/20/03)
Protesters rallied in a park across from Gov. Mark R. Warner's Alexandria home yesterday afternoon, urging a veto of legislation that would prohibit illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses in Virginia and in-state college tuition.
About 40 people, mostly Hispanic immigrants, took part, some marching with signs that read "No to Racism" and, in Spanish, "Just Access to Licenses."
The demonstrators criticized Warner (D) for not coming out strongly against the two bills, which passed by wide margins last month in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Aides said the governor was not home during yesterday's demonstration.
Protest organizer Diego Mendez of the Tenants and Workers Support Committee said of Warner: "It will be difficult to stick his neck out, but he has to do what's right. He's talked about being an ally to the immigrant community . . . and the community is trying to . . . call him on his word. He hasn't proved that he is an ally yet."
Not all Hispanic leaders agreed. Rick Gonzalez, co-chair of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, which includes Mendez's committee, said the protest showed "a lack of respect for the governor" and "irked" others in the coalition.
"Some people don't understand that there are certain things you can't change, even by force," Gonzalez said. "We are trying to work . . . in the system. We don't have to get into ugly situations."
Both sides agree that the two bills would be detrimental to immigrants, even those in the United States legally.
The driver's license measure requires first-time applicants to prove that they are in the country legally. Advocates for immigrants question whether a cash-strapped Department of Motor Vehicles can or will spend millions of dollars training employees to decipher complex immigration documents.
The service and construction industries, which utilize much immigrant labor, will suffer if their employees cannot drive, the advocates argue.
The bills' supporters say the measures are necessary anti-terrorism moves, and cite the fact that several of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers used a loophole in state law to obtain Virginia licenses for identification purposes.
Last week, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) pressed Warner to sign the bills, saying: "The driver's license is a passport to all sorts of places, including, of course, boarding an airplane. . . . I don't want it ever said again that a portion of any terrorist network had Virginia driver's licenses."
Kilgore also said in-state tuition rates should not be given "to people who have ignored our immigration laws."
Ellen Qualls, Warner's spokeswoman, indicated yesterday that the governor, who has until Monday to act on the bills, is close to a decision, but she would not elaborate.
Qualls said that, no matter what Warner decides, "he's been very supportive of, and engaged with, Virginia's Latino community. I don't think that these bills should be the defining issue for the [immigrant] community. He has reached out in a number of ways, from getting children health insurance to promoting outreach to Hispanic businesses."
Because a veto of either bill probably would be overridden by the legislature, the Hispanic coalition wants Warner to amend the bills, pushing their effective date back to Jan. 1, 2004, to allow further study.
Mendez said he isn't swayed by that position.
"It doesn't address the fundamental problems with these bills," he said.