Updated: Cuccinelli: DMV can refuse work permit cards as proof of legal residency
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is not required to accept federal work permit cards as proof of lawful presence in the United States for the purpose of issuing a driver's license, permit or special identification card, according to an opinion issued Monday by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
In September, the state said that federal work permit cards can no longer be used to prove someone's legal status when obtaining driver's licenses or identification cards in the state after a fatal crash involving a Benedictine nun and a Bolivian man, accused of drunk driving, who immigrated to the United States illegally.
Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano, 23, is accused of swerving into the path of a vehicle carrying Sister Denise Mosier, 66, and two other nuns on their way to a retreat in Prince William County on Aug. 1. Martinelly-Montano, who had entered the United States illegally at age 8 with his parents, had been awaiting a deportation hearing after convictions for drunken driving in 2007 and 2008.
Updated, 5:35 p.m.: Offiicials at the ACLU of Virginia renewed their previous call to have the policy reversed.
"The policy was hastily adopted in the wake of a tragic accident but there is simply no connection between the work permit and the accident,'' ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said. "We can only conclude that the state was looking for a scapegoat to explain how it allowed someone who caused such an accident to drive illegally, and it chose to do so by taking away one of the most important uses of one of the most important official government documents issued to many immigrants."
In January 2009, he received a federal employment authorization card from the Department of Homeland Security and used it to obtain a Virginia ID card. Martinelly-Montano, who has been indicted on involuntary manslaughter and drunken driving charges in the accident, did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the crash.
Virginia law requires applicants for drivers' licenses, permits and ID cards to prove that they are lawfully present in the United States, but the law does not spell out which documents an applicant can rely upon to establish lawful presence. The opinion concludes that the DMV has the authority and the discretion to decide which documents are appropriate.
The opinion, issued in response to a request from Virginia DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb, states that the commissioner was within his discretion to discontinue using it to establish lawful presence. It also concludes that the DMV is not authorized under Virginia law to cancel a driver's license once a person has ceased to be lawfully present in the United States.
| November 15, 2010; 12:01 PM ET
Categories: Anita Kumar, Ken Cuccinelli
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