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Flushing advocates fight for illegal aliens’ licenses

Members of YKASEC, the Young Korean American Service and Education Center, were joined by state Assemblyman Jimmy Meng (D-Flushing) and the New York Immigration Coalition Feb. 23 in calling for reform in the driver's license application process - especially in how it relates to immigrants."YKASEC has been receiving so many hundreds of phone calls saying, 'What can I do without the driver's license?'" YKASEC Executive Director Yu-Soung Mun said at a news conference in his office at 136-19 41st Ave. in downtown Flushing.To answer the question, Mun urged undocumented immigrants not to go to the DMV until a court case over whether or not the state commission can double-check Social Security numbers is settled. His comments run contrary to a statement state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) released last week in support of a bill that would require driver's license applicants to prove they are living in the United States legally."The recent court decision and the fact that the state is appealing it show that now that now is the time to move forward with this type of legislation and require proof of status by statute as opposed to just administratively," Padavan said.On the federal level, YKASEC is encouraging residents to write to U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and ask them to block the passage of the REAL ID Act, which has the potential to deny licenses to undocumented immigrants."I oppose the government's use of anti-terrorism (rhetoric) to take away the licenses of people," said Meng, an immigrant who just recently became the first Asian elected to the state Legislature. "It's against the civil liberties of the people."In addition to putting further restrictions on immigrants' ability to obtain licenses, the REAL ID Act has the potential to make it harder for those fleeing persecution to seek asylum in the United States as well. It also could make way for the construction of a three-mile fence at the U.S.-Mexico border. The act passed in the House of Representatives on Feb. 10 by a vote of 261-161.Before it goes to a vote in the Senate, YKASEC hopes to reach out to New York's senators to oppose the bill."I think New York has been on the forefront in fighting for immigrants' rights," said Jackie Vimo of the New York Immigration Coalition.At the state level, the DMV maintains that no licenses were suspended without an open dialogue with the driver as to whether his or her Social Security number was valid."We don't have any stats on if any of these people are immigrants or not," DMV spokeswoman Christine Burling said, adding the DMV has collected Social Security numbers from potential drivers since the mid-1990s.The federal Social Security Administration created an on-line verification program for state DMVs in 2001. The New York commission began running checks on Social Security numbers in 2002, after which it found 600,000 questionable driver's licenses."What we did initially is send out inquiry letters," Burling said. In response about 58 percent of the 600,000 drivers confirmed their Social Security numbers.Out of the remaining licenses, Burling said only 5,700 were suspended - 1,700 of which were non-commercial and 4,000 commercial.A State Supreme Court Judge in Manhattan ordered the DMV to stop suspending the licenses of immigrants who do not have Social Security cards on Feb. 18, but by Feb. 22 the commission had appealed the decision, thereby making the judge's order temporarily moot."The DMV has always maintained that we are not in immigration enforcement. We are simply carrying out the procedures in accordance with state and federal law," Burling said.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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