New Issue In Fatal Crash

Melissa Harris, Baltimore Sun, Nov. 30

The landscaper charged with vehicular homicide and drunken driving in a crash Thanksgiving night that killed a Marine on leave and his date is apparently in the country illegally and had received a Maryland driver’s license by first obtaining one from North Carolina—a state whose loose requirements once made it a favorite for undocumented aliens seeking identification cards.

It is unclear how Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, 25, a Mexican citizen living in Laurel, came to the United States or whether the North Carolina license was his first, but anti-immigration activists said yesterday said that until North Carolina changed its licensing laws in August, the state was a magnet for immigration fraud.

From there, the jump to Maryland apparently would not have been difficult. Morales-Soriano could have submitted the North Carolina license along with a variety of other sources of documentation with his signature, date of birth or address, according to state regulations. A 2003 Maryland attorney general’s opinion concluded that proof of legal U.S. residency was not a requirement for a driver’s license.

James Dinkins, acting special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in Baltimore, said yesterday that there was no record of Morales-Soriano entering the country legally. Immigration officials said they planned to confirm his identity through fingerprints.

At the conclusion of Howard County’s criminal case, immigration officials will initiate proceedings to remove Morales-Soriano from the country, Dinkins said.

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Morales-Soriano has been charged with two counts of homicide by motor vehicle, two counts of manslaughter while intoxicated and driving while under the influence. He was being held yesterday at the Howard County Detention Center on an $830,000 bond.

Morales-Soriano’s attorney, Bradley A. Goldbloom of Baltimore, called into question last night the accuracy of the 0.32 Breathalyzer reading, which was included in court records filed by police and announced Monday by the county’s acting police chief.

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The accident is likely to revive concerns about illegal aliens obtaining driver’s licenses.

“These issues of laxity are simply going to expose people on a personal basis and national basis to just what happened,” said Neil Berro, executive director of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License in New York. “The example was as personal as the next time you cross the street or get in a car, or as macro as 9-11. In between those issues are concerns related to identity theft.”

But Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for CASA of Maryland, an aid group for Hispanic immigrants, argued that the country is better off knowing who is on its roads and where they live, that they’ve passed a driving-skills test and that they have insurance. Murray Simon, president of Conexiones, a Hispanic educational group in Howard County, said that Morales-Soriano’s immigration status is irrelevant.

“My personal feeling is that this whole business of illegal and legal is just a case of name-calling,” Simon said.

This is not Morales-Soriano’s first traffic stop in the state. On July 2, he was pulled over in Riverdale and charged with driving the wrong way on a one-way street, speeding and negligent driving. He was found not guilty, according to court records.

In February, Howard County police were called to the scene of an accident on a parking lot on Robert Oliver Place in Columbia. No one was injured, but Morales-Soriano smelled of alcohol, a spokesman for the Howard County state’s attorney’s office said.

After being unable to maintain his balance, Morales-Soriano refused a Breathalyzer test, the spokesman said, and he was issued four citations and released to the custody of a relative.

An officer at the scene mistakenly gave him a form that was supposed to be sent to the state’s motor vehicle agency, which prevented officials from suspending his license as the law requires when a driver refuses a Breathalyzer.

Prosecutors later dropped the charges, noting weak evidence.

It is unlikely, however, that even a conviction on traffic charges would have raised concerns about Morales-Soriano’s immigration status. This month, he was found guilty of having unsafe tires after Maryland State Police pulled him over on Interstate 70 in Frederick County in September.

Although experts said they consider Maryland’s driver’s license policies sound, federal authorities and other states have long raised concerns about the rules governing North Carolina driver’s licenses.

Florida, for instance, considers North Carolina driver’s licenses and those from 19 other states “secondary forms of identification” and requires a passport, birth certificate or proof of naturalization to accompany them.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called North Carolina’s former approach a “no-questions-asked” policy.

Until this year, North Carolina accepted an easy-to-obtain tax identification number in lieu of a Social Security number on its driver license applications, which the federal government has warned states not to do.

The purpose of the identification number is to enable foreigners who don’t have Social Security numbers to pay federal income taxes, but the number also can be a “back door” to a mortgage or, in a few states, a driver’s license.

The Internal Revenue Service’s Web site says that the identification numbers are to be used “only for tax-identification” purposes, but it also says that the agency accepts the documents necessary to obtain the number “at face value without validating their authenticity” and that the agency does not verify applicants’ “legal presence” in the United States.

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