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Is the Ohio BMV Trying to Enforce Immigration Laws?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 30, 2009 11:50 AM

The State of Ohio is in turmoil over motor vehicle registration laws.  A recent crack-down by the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) has resulted in a suit by the League of United Latin American Citizens, who claim the BMV's sudden move to require proof of identity to register a vehicle amounts to enforcement of the immigration laws by the state, circumventing the federal government's primary role in immigration matters.

In October, the Ohio BMV sent notices to more than 47,000 vehicle owners stating if they did not provide a valid Ohio driver's license, ID card, or social security number by December 8th, they would be in violation of the law. Marilyn Zayas-Davis, a lawyer with the Ohio branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens, sees this as a violation of a valid contract residents already had with the state. "They have complied with the law as it is written now, and the state of Ohio is trying to change the law without going through the legislative process," she said. 

The BMV contends it simply wants to avoid fraud and enforce its regulations. Rather than targeting any one group, BMV representatives say the vehicles selected for enforcement were simply drawn from a database. The change in policy may have resulted from investigations that found that some new residents without valid ID's used the power of attorney option available to registrants to allow "runners" to register their vehicles for them. Thousands of these forms were found to be fraudulent by the BMV's investigation.

Originally, this policy had been scheduled to take effect last August, but was postponed after former Public Safety Director Henry Guzman found the policy needed work. The office of Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles is investigating the delay in enacting the policy and the role of runners.

In the Latino community, the reality is more than a fear of a fix-it ticket. Hispanic business owners worry about the effect on their businesses and others are concerned with a resulting immigration crackdown that could lead to deportation, job loss and separation of families.

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