Casa of Maryland helps illegal aliens get driver's licenses
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The article "Maryland group helps immigrants get driver's licenses" may even describe illegal behavior on their part, but whether it actually occured as described and whether this behavior is in fact illegal is not known at this time. Hopefully someone will look into this:
At 5 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday, dozens of Spanish-speaking immigrants gather inside the cafeteria of St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Riverdale, Md., to learn if someone who is in the United States illegally can get a driver's license.
The event has been organized by CASA de Maryland, a Silver Spring-based organization that deals with issues related to undocumented workers.
As parishioners from the 4 p.m. mass stream into the packed room, Kim Propeack, director of community organizing at CASA de Maryland, takes the floor. "Every year in Annapolis they introduce legislation against undocumented immigrants," she says. "We have beaten those attempts every year, so far."
Ms. Propeack hands the floor over to Francisco Cartagena, a CASA organizer who teaches audiences across Maryland how to navigate the treacherous seas of the Motor Vehicle Administration.
Mr. Cartagena explains the importance of the REAL ID Act approved by Congress in May. Murmurs and sidebar conversations can be heard as more people trickle in.
"In March 2003 some restrictions were applied to driver's licenses," Mr. Cartagena says. "Since May 10 of last year they have added other restrictions. Many people did not realize that it was necessary to have legal migration status to get a license." The room goes quiet.
He explains that it is now impossible to get a license in Virginia and the District of Columbia without full documentation. He says that in Maryland there is still a window of opportunity.
"The REAL ID Act is not currently approved in Maryland. We have three years," he says.
The simplest and yet the most pressing obstacle undocumented immigrants face is stating their address. Mr. Cartagena makes it clear that it is not uncommon for people to be unaware of where they live.
"You need to know your address by heart," he says. "People fail when they are asked to give an address. When they ask, 'Where do you live?' it is as if they have thrown cold water on them." He patiently explains that a complete address must include the city, state and ZIP code.
In lieu of the most common documents that prove identity, a social security or a green card, Mr. Cartagena suggests to the audience that they get a baptism certificate from their country of origin, or even a high school transcript, anything that has their date of birth.
Ms. Propeack interjects to warn about fraudulent international licenses sold for hundreds of dollars that are not valid proofs of identity for the MVA.
Mr. Cartagena resumes. "Our naivete is such that we think we can take a statement from a foreign bank to the MVA," he says. "Make sure that you get a statement from a U.S. bank."
"Many people rent a basement or a room without a written contract. Go to Office Depot or Staples, get a rental contract form and fill it. This document sticks to the law in Maryland. But if you write $200, they will ask you, 'Where are the $200 homes?'"
At 6:30 p.m. the meeting breaks up. Ms. Propeack and a CASA volunteer are surrounded by people and begin to field questions. Half an hour later they must leave the place to make room for a prayer meeting.
According to Mr. Cartagena, over the past two years CASA has educated about 20,000 people on getting a license. Of these, 3,000 have successfully gotten licenses. He says this was not one of CASA's main goals. Their aim was primarily to protect day laborers. But CASA realized it could also help immigrants get licenses. He crisscrosses Maryland every week to inform as many people as possible.
His is a race against time. By May 2008 all states will have to abide by the provisions of the REAL ID Act that would make it impossible for an undocumented worker to get a license.