Friday, May 23, 2008

Protesters want Real ID compliance

Groups gather at Motor Vehicle Administration

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Contessa CrisostomoˇThe Gazette
Dave and Betty Carpenter gathered at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration office in Gaithersburg on Saturday to urge state lawmakers to comply with the Real ID Act, which would cut off illegal immigrants’ access to valid driver’s licenses.
Dozens of protesters descended on Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration branches in Gaithersburg, Beltsville and Glen Burnie on Saturday morning, calling on the state to conform with a federal law that would cut off illegal immigrants’ access to valid driver’s licenses.

Waving American flags and holding signs, members of the grassroots group Help Save Maryland sought to bring attention to Maryland as one of five states that does not to require proof of legal residence to obtain a license.

In a sharp turn this January, Gov. Martin O’Malley said he would direct the MVA to eventually comply with Real ID, and the federal government granted a two-year extension.

In addition to Maryland, the four remaining states — Hawaii, New Mexico, Utah and Maine — have until May 2010 to comply.

But Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, said that the extended deadline will encourage more illegal immigrants to come to Maryland.

‘‘We’re giving them the keys to the kingdom,” he said Saturday, protesting at a street corner next to the Gaithersburg MVA with more than a dozen others. ‘‘To wait until 2010 is a danger to our community.”

For state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, the protest was part of the group’s ‘‘anti-immigrant agenda” that aims more at ‘‘fomenting hate” than achieving thoughtful change.

‘‘What part of illegal don’t they understand? We are absolutely following Maryland law. People are entitled to get driver’s licenses,” said Gutierrez (D-Dist. 17) of Chevy Chase. She was at the Gaithersburg rally and called the governor last week to make sure state troopers would be at the three protest sites.

During this year’s legislative session in Annapolis, several measures designed to clamp down on illegal immigrants were voted down, despite a more vigorous support from Republican lawmakers.

But the protesters in Gaithersburg were undaunted in getting the word out.

Dave and Betty Carpenter of Germantown had their ‘‘eyes opened” to the issue in 2002, when their car collided with one driven by a man who police said was an illegal immigrant with a valid license. In their case, the driver’s license did nothing to ensure accountability: The man skipped the subsequent court proceedings and has been on the lam since.

‘‘The fact that they’ve got ID doesn’t mean that it’s their ID,” said Betty Carpenter, 62, who said she was in the hospital for several weeks after the accident. ‘‘The fact that there’s an address on it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be there. It happens so quickly, that address doesn’t mean diddly-squat.”

Saturday’s two-hour rally drew the occasional honk of support and thumbs up from passers-by, but it rubbed others the wrong way.

‘‘It’s just baloney. What they’re doing has no logic,” said Tarsis Delgado, a worker at one of three pupusa trucks that had taken their usual Saturday spots in front of the MVA. ‘‘One way or another, people are going to be driving. So doing what they say makes it even worse.”