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Latino groups sue DMV over identification policy

By Richard Stradling
Raleigh News & Observer

RALEIGH N.C. – Two Latino groups went to court this week to try to block new rules that would make it harder for Mexican immigrants to get driver licenses and state-issued identification cards.

Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens has scheduled a hearing this morning on the groups' request.

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In a suit filed Thursday, the groups claim the Division of Motor Vehicles violated state law when it decided to stop accepting Mexican identification cards, among some other forms of ID, starting this week.

"We're challenging the process," said Ivan Parra, executive director of the Latino Community Development Center in Durham. "That's one thing as immigrants that we love about this country: that there's democracy and an opportunity to be heard."

Parra's group and The Latino Community Credit Union of Durham brought the suit on behalf of their 23,000 members. The suit seeks to delay the rules until the state allows the public to comment on them.

DMV Commissioner George Tatum said the state stands by the way it issued the rules. Tatum said state law gives him the authority to determine what forms of ID can be used to obtain a license and that the Attorney General's Office told him public hearings were not necessary.

"They felt we were on solid legal ground to move forward," he said.

The rules aim to prevent criminals and possibly terrorists from using fake documents to get licenses or ID cards from the DMV. Starting Monday, several forms of ID, including birth certificates from countries other than the United States or Canada, will no longer be accepted.

The change that has packed DMV offices statewide would bar the use of Mexican voting cards as well as the "matricula consular," ID cards issued by Mexican consulates that are often carried by illegal immigrants. With a deadline looming today, immigrants have been lining up hours before dawn in hopes of getting in.

Esmeralda Terrones, a child-care worker in Siler City, arrived at the Cary DMV office at 6 a.m. Thursday and found she was 112th in line. Terrones, 27, who holds a driver license from her native Mexico, waited six hours to get a state-issued ID card. She was certain she would have had to wait longer in Siler City.

The crush has created long waits. Mac Farrior of Raleigh stood outside two hours Thursday morning before he was ushered into the DMV office on Avent Ferry Road to renew his license. Farrior, who turns 35 today, didn't want to risk letting his license expire.

"This is very, very inconvenient," he said.

Tatum said DMV anticipated long lines this month but decided the rules were necessary to help prevent identification theft and keep unsafe drivers off the road.

But Parra said the rules might put more unsafe drivers on the road by forcing immigrants to drive without licenses or insurance. He said the state is better off making it easy for immigrants to take a driver test.

"These new regulations push a big segment of the immigrant community further underground," he said.

The lawsuit does not directly contest the merits of the DMV's new rules. The groups say they will make a case for changing them if the judge orders public hearings.

John Herrera, president of the Latino Community Credit Union, said the matricula issued by the Mexican consulate is difficult to falsify and should be accepted by the state. As for other forms of ID from Mexico, Herrera said he would want to see some evidence that they pose a security risk – the kind of evidence that would be presented at public hearings.

Herrera and Parra said the rules have caused unnecessary chaos and confusion at DMV offices. But they said they waited until the final days of the month to file suit because they hoped to persuade state officials to delay the rules without going to court.

"The legal suit is a last resort," Herrera said. "We tried diplomacy first."