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Court Upholds Denial of Drivers License to Immigrant

January 9, 2008: The Court of Appeals issued a 5-2 decision on January 9, 2008, today in Alavez v. MVA, a case on which the PJC served as amicus, holding that the Maryland statute regarding the issuance of drivers’ licenses to those with suspended/withdrawn licenses in other states “means what it says” and forbids the MVA from issuing a license to Mr. Alavez whose license was suspended/withdrawn in New Jersey because he could not provide proof of his legal residence in the United States. This holding comes despite the fact that Maryland does not require such documentation for a license. Judge Wilner, writing for the majority, ascribed the result to the simple implementation of the statute which required the MVA to honor the suspension/withdraw of Mr. Alavez’s New Jersey license by the New Jersey authorities. Unfortunately, the due process and equal protection arguments raised by the PJC were disposed of in relative short shrift. Judges Greene and Eldridge issued a joint dissent criticizing the Maryland statute as too broad and in need of pruning to be more narrow in its sweep. The Baltimore Sun article follows:


Court upholds denial of driver's license

By Liz F. Kay and Tim Wheeler

Sun reporters

January 10, 2008

The state's high court upheld yesterday a decision to deny a driver's license to a Maryland resident whose permit in New Jersey was suspended because he had forged citizenship documents.

Ramiro Silba Alavez, who is from Mexico, received a New Jersey license that was withdrawn after it expired in 1991, according to the decision, because the applicant had made misrepresentations on his application when he arrived in the United States.

Unlike Maryland, New Jersey requires applicants to prove they are American citizens before licensing. But Maryland law prohibits its Motor Vehicle Administration from issuing driver's licenses to people whose licenses are suspended in other states.

The Court of Appeals opinion, written by Judge Alan M. Wilner, states that the petitioner was asking the courts to overlook that rule if the other state's suspension "is for conduct that would not warrant that result in Maryland."

The courts cannot add language to limit laws, Wilner wrote.

Judge John C. Eldridge, in his dissent, wrote that the plaintiff would never be eligible for a license because the applicant could not rectify the situation in New Jersey. However, had someone applied for a Maryland license and submitted false documents, he would be permitted to reapply for a license after a year.

"Since the laws in Maryland are our governing laws, we should follow those laws and not those of another state," said Eliza Leighton, director of strategic initiatives for CASA of Maryland. The advocacy group filed a brief supporting the plaintiff.

State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who is running for Congress in a primary in which immigration has been an issue, hailed the decision.

"If that's what it takes to stop illegal immigrants, or to prevent some of them from getting a driver's license, I couldn't agree more," said Harris, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.

He and a fellow Republican, state Sen. E.J. Pipkin of the Upper Shore, are seeking to unseat longtime Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. Harris has co-sponsored legislation aimed at blocking illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses in the state.

liz.kay@baltsun.com Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

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