Hispanic group sues Ohio over license plate policy

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2009 10:00 AM

A Hispanic group filed a lawsuit asking a judge to stop Ohio from canceling vehicle registrations for thousands of people if they do not provide certain documentation.

The League of United Latin American Citizens claims state officials, through the policy, were seeking proof of legal U.S. residency and venturing into immigration regulation, an area reserved for the federal government.

Its suit filed Tuesday seeks a court order to prevent the state from enforcing the policy and a ruling that throws out the policy entirely.

"The state is wanting to renounce a contract they have engaged in with thousands of occupants of Ohio," said Marilyn Zayas-Davis, an attorney for the league's Ohio branch. "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 policy will hurt families as well as individuals.

"The reality is that most people without immigration status live in a mixed household, where you have people with U.S. citizenship, some with permanent residency status and people without immigration status," she said.

The state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles sent notices in October to the owners of more than 47,000 motor vehicles informing them that their vehicle registrations would be canceled if the owners did not provide an Ohio driver's license, Ohio identification card or proof of a Social Security number by Dec. 8.

Lindsay Komlanc, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and its BMV division, said Tuesday the policy was aimed partly at reducing any potential for fraud. The list of those receiving notices was drawn from a vehicle registration base. The notices then went to anyone who did not have the required information attached to their registrations.

"What we are actually doing through this policy is verifying in our system to be sure people are who they say they are," Komlanc said. "We are in no way targeting any one group, but working to administer the motor vehicle laws to the best of our ability."

Komlanc said department officials had not seen the lawsuit, but will review it along with the attorney general's office.

LULAC held news conferences in Cincinnati and Columbus. Its suit names as defendants Gov. Ted Strickland, acting BMV registrar Carolyn Williams and Public Safety Director Cathy Collins-Taylor.

Latino business owner Lourdes Leon said many people have to drive to work, but now are afraid to drive in Ohio and are leaving the state because of the policy.

"People are already leaving," she said.