Immigrant legislation debated

Bills praised as vital to national security, decried as discriminatory

General Assembly

March 18, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,STAFF WRITER

In one room of the House of Delegates building, a coalition of immigrant and religious groups assailed yesterday what they consider anti-immigrant legislation, centering criticism on a bill that would prevent undocumented residents from obtaining driver's licenses.

Meanwhile, Del. Herbert H. McMillan, an Anne Arundel Republican, and a small group of Sept. 11 survivors and victims' families called passage of the bills crucial to preserving national security.

The two sides later squared off in a packed House Judiciary Committee hearing.

It was the final set of hearings on a group of bills deemed anti-immigrant by a coalition of Asian, Latino and activist organizations that hope the legislation will meet the same unsuccessful fate as last year.

"Every single year the Republicans have an agenda attacking us," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of the Latino advocacy group CASA of Maryland. "We are not going to allow this legislation to pass."

McMillan's bill would prohibit the Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing driver's licenses to those unable to provide documentation that they are in the United States legally. Current law allows undocumented residents to receive a driver's license provided they have the documents to prove their identity, age and residence.

`Lawful presence'

More than two dozen states require that driver's license applicants prove "lawful presence" in the United States.

"This is a pro legal immigrant measure," McMillan said. "Why should we extend this privilege to people who have violated the law?"

Joan Molinaro of Staten Island, whose son, Carl, was a firefighter killed battling the fires from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, testified about the pain she has suffered from her loss. "We allowed these murderers into this country, and we rewarded them by giving them driver's licenses," she said.

"Please tell me how many dead Americans will it take," she said, concluding her testimony.

Several lawmakers pointed out that the Sept. 11 terrorists entered the country legally.

`Very extreme'

"I think that we have been using that connection to driver's licenses ... in a very extreme manner," said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, questioned why McMillan was determined to punish those who enter the country illegally, as opposed to those who commit far graver crimes.

Similar legislation failed last year when lawmakers were awaiting the results of a task force report. In December the task force reported that state law need not be changed.

Other legislation heard yesterday included a bill that would punish anyone who knowingly allows an undocumented immigrant to drive their car and one that would allow Baltimore County police to take "suspected illegal aliens" into custody and detain them for immigration officials.

A fourth bill, heard before the House Economic Matters Committee, would create a task force to study the effect of illegal immigrants on the job market.

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