By Monica Alonzo
By Ray Stern
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Robrt L. Pela
Moreno is a burly man, with a dark mustache and thick bristles of gray hair that stand at attention. He's spent most of his adult life working long hours for a modest living. In Mexico, he worked in a Japanese factory, making bags for rice and flour. Twenty-six years ago, he moved to California from Jalisco, and in 1995 settled in Phoenix, where he does carpentry work at J&A Oak, a west Phoenix furniture factory.
Despite spending half of his life in the United States, he still speaks only Spanish, employing a soft, slow cadence that reflects not only his self-effacing manner, but also his careful determination to choose the right words.
Moreno is not a political activist by nature, but he felt so strongly about the driver's license bill that he decided to join the demonstration outside the Capitol.
"I drive and have insurance and I want others to also have the same rights that I do," he says. "I want these people, if they have an accident -- and hopefully they won't -- to be able to legitimately file a complaint and be protected under the law. I think everyone would want insurance so that they can rest assured."
Defenders of the current law find this line of thinking implausible at best. They question why someone who entered the country illegally would suddenly develop a respect for the law. "There's no guarantee that an undocumented immigrant who gets a license would turn around and get insurance," says Greg Patterson, Burns' chief of staff.
Alberto Esparza, a local activist who founded Sí Se Puede -- an organization that encourages community activity among Hispanic youth -- says he's convinced that undocumented immigrants badly want insurance, and refutes the notion that they're trying to use driver's licenses as an entree into a false legitimacy, which will then entitle them to social programs reserved for citizens.
"The community is really concerned because they want to get insurance and they want to obey the law," Esparza says. "People who don't see the issues say, "The next thing you know, they'll want to vote.' They're fearful of the community, because the Hispanic community has grown by leaps and bounds, and it's starting to organize."
Moreno contends that the law has encouraged discrimination against Hispanics at the state Motor Vehicle Division. He says when he applied for an Arizona license, he was asked to provide at least four pieces of identification, despite the fact that state law requires only two documents.
"I showed them three ID's," he says. "My social security card, my permanent-resident card and my ID card. And they asked for more identification, like my bank card or anything else."
Phoenix attorney Stephen Montoya says he's currently handling five incidents of alleged Motor Vehicle Division discrimination that have occurred in the past four months. Montoya says two of the five cases involved people who had green cards -- work-authorization documents provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- and provided them to MVD employees as proof of legal residency.
"The individuals at the MVD looked at the green card and thought that it looked fabricated," Montoya says. "Consequently, they seized it and would not give it back. In fact, after many telephone calls and much anguish and a few threats, the MVD conceded that they were authentic and returned them. By that point, one of the men had lost nearly a month of work without his green card."
Montoya says two other clients, both recently naturalized citizens with California driver's licenses, had their green cards and California licenses seized by the MVD.
Perhaps the strangest case concerns a lifelong American citizen in his early 20s, who was born in Nogales, Arizona. Montoya says an MVD employee did not accept the young man's birth certificate, so he returned with a certified copy of it. Again, it was rejected. He still does not have a driver's license.
Montoya lays at least part of the blame on a system that has forced MVD workers to become de facto INS agents, by trying to determine who fits the profile of an American citizen.
"All of these people have the demeanor of being Mexican nationals," Montoya explains. "You can kind of tell who a Hispanic is or who a Mexican-American is, because they have the demeanor of an American. They dress differently, they speak differently. These folks are either from Mexico or from that pocket of the United States that is culturally more akin to Mexico. They look Mexican."
Montoya suggests that such incidents probably would not have occurred under the MVD's pre-1996 regulations.
"Before this law, there was really no pretext upon which to base these inquiries," he says. "That's where all these problems arose: the quest to ascertain whether or not someone is a lawful resident. And, really, these folks at the MVD are not poised to make that determination. And moreover, they probably don't have jurisdiction to make that determination, because the federal government has absolute jurisdiction over immigration matters."
Montoya says he's hoping to avoid a lawsuit by getting MVD to agree that what it's doing is wrong, adding that he's confident the situation can be resolved with an MVD promise to stop the practice.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city