AUGUSTA (AP) – Immigrants’ rights activists went on the offensive Monday against Gov. John Baldacci’s proposal to make driver’s licenses more secure, saying it targets the most vulnerable, encourages aliens to drive illegally and does little to make Maine safer.

The coalition also attacked as poorly conceived the federal Real ID licensing policy that propelled Baldacci to act, saying the federal government foisted it on Maine with little guidance on how it should determine a license applicant’s legal presence in the state.

“Maine was singled out. Why it was singled out we don’t know,” Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said at a State House news conference with the Pax Christi Catholic social justice group, the Portland NAACP, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

The groups oppose a bill Baldacci submitted that limits Maine licenses to those who document legal presence in the United States, makes licenses expire when the holder’s visa expires, and takes other steps to ensure the security of Maine licenses.

Baldacci’s decision last week to submit the legislation prompted the federal Department of Homeland Security to give Maine more time to comply with the Real ID licensing standards, meaning Mainers will not be subject to extra security screening at airports and federal buildings as of May 11.

Critics Monday questioned whether legal status in the country protects against terrorism. Beth Stickney of the immigrant advocates’ group said in a statement that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and most of the Sept. 11 hijackers “could all have obtained driver licenses if they had been required to prove legal status.”

Stickney said requiring legal presence would impose hardship on a number of people who are awaiting residency approval while living with their legally documented spouses working in Maine’s hotels, factories and farms. In effect, she said, they would be forced to drive without licenses.

The Greater Portland NAACP Chapter’s Bob Talbot said that while the state has purview over driver licensing, the federal government controls immigration issues, “and never the twain shall meet.”

Pax Christi’s Bill Slavick denounced the governor’s proposal as a “shameful” act that violates Christian ideals.

A Republican legislative leader labeled the groups as “wildly outside the mainstream opinion of state residents.”

“The people in these civil rights groups seem to think it’s fine to hand out Maine licenses to people from anywhere on the planet, even if they don’t live in Maine,” said House Minority Leader Josh Tardy of Newport. “It’s frankly unbelievable to me that they think we should issue this crucial ID document to people who are here illegally.”

While united in opposition to the governor’s bill, the immigration coalition is divided on a separate piece of legislation that seeks to require Maine residency for licenses.

The MCLU strongly opposes the measure, while the NAACP and immigrant advocacy group have no problem with requiring state residency only. The bill is expected to come up for House and Senate debate this week.

A version supported by the Transportation Committee’s majority would accept as proof of Maine residency any of several documents, such as a W-2 form, contract, lease, utility bill or sworn affidavit. Military personnel and college students would be exempted from the requirement.

The committee’s minority supports a version that includes those provisions, but also has a legal presence requirement.

AP-ES-04-07-08 1638EDT

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