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Va. alters ID policy after nun's death in accident

Virginia will no longer allow federal employment authorization cards to be used to obtain driver's licenses or identification cards after a fatal crash involving Benedictine nuns and a drunk Bolivian national facing deportation stoked concerns over the document's reliability in determining someone's immigration status.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles changed its policy Tuesday to disallow the federal government's I-766 employment authorization card from being used as a primary document to determine "proof of legal presence" in the United States.

Melanie Stokes, a spokeswoman for the agency, called the Aug. 1 death of Sister Denise Mosier, 66, the "catalyst" for the law change. A drunken driver, Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano, 23, swerved into the path of a vehicle carrying Mosier and two other nuns on their way to a retreat in Prince William County.

Martinelly-Montano, who had entered the United States illegally at age 8 with his parents and sister, had been awaiting a deportation hearing after two convictions for drunken driving in 2007 and 2008. In January 2009, he received a federal authorization work card from the Department of Homeland Security.

The change, first pushed for by Prince William law enforcement officials after the accident, is Virginia's first attempt to target federal policies that allow employment authorization cards to be issued to illegal immigrants in the midst of deportation proceedings. Immigration groups immediately decried the move as a political overreaction and a further infringement on the limited rights of immigrants.

"From a legal point of view, it's just plain stupid," said Crystal L. Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "There are so many people who are here legally and that's the only documentation they are able to produce.' "

Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said Tuesday that he was "pleased" by the DMV's action, saying that the issuance of employment cards during active deportation cases sends a "mixed signal."

Matt Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said federal officials are investigating what prompted Martinelly-Montano's release from federal custody in 2008 but that it would not comment on state issues.

Derek Kravitz

By Anita Kumar  |  September 7, 2010; 5:02 PM ET
Categories:  Immigration , Prince William , Transportation  
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Comments

It's been a long time coming. Kudos to Virginia DMV for stepping up.

Posted by: vmj55 | September 7, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure it can be considered an over reaction if someone died.

Posted by: reiflame1 | September 7, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Finally - someone shows some commonsense. It wouldn't have stopped this killer from getting behind the wheel of a car while drunk. His continued illegal status and his two other DUIs make it apparent that he has no regard for the laws of this country - but it is certainly one additional step that makes these criminals more uncomfortable when further trying to stay in the country.

Posted by: belugajedi | September 8, 2010 3:50 AM | Report abuse

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