• IRLI Staff

9-11 Families for a Secure America v. Echalar

Thirteen aliens and one unincorporated association, represented by CASA de Maryland and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), filed suit in 2005 against officials of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), claiming their constitutional rights had been violated when MDOT and MVA officials declined pursuant to state law to accept foreign documents as evidence of eligibility to obtain state driver’s licenses. Only one of the original Plaintiffs, claimed to have presented documentation establishing legal presence in the United States, while several plaintiffs inadvertently disclosed their apparent unlawful immigration status during the proceedings in the trial court.

On April 25, 2006, IRLI on behalf of David King, a survivor of the attack on the Pentagon, and Debra Burlingame, and the 9-11 Families for a Secure America, Inc., who were relatives of victims of the 9-11 attacks, sought leave to intervene in this case. The non-citizen plaintiffs opposed intervention, but the Maryland state agencies did not.

At a hearing on May 24, 2006, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Brooke Murdock first denied a motion, opposed by IRLI, to allow the aliens to proceed anonymously. Four aliens subsequently withdrew from the case. Judge Murdock then denied the 9-11 Families’ Motion to Intervene.

The Circuit Court found that the 9-11 Families had timely filed their motion to intervene, had a protectable interest in the regulations at issue that might be impaired, but did “not believe that [the 9-11 Families’] interests are any different than any other citizens of Maryland, and that the Attorney General’s Office and the State of Maryland can adequately represent them.” IRLI argued that the state Attorney General was “charged with defending and furthering the policies and procedures of the state’s current licensing scheme, which mandates that ‘the MVA may not deny a license to an individual because she or he is unable to prove lawful presence in this country.’ 88 Opinions of the Attorney General 109, 109” (Sept. 12, 2003). The 9-11 Families “strenuously dispute the validity of this Opinion, as in direct conflict with their interests and seek to invalidate it as a violation of controlling federal and state law.” As to special harm, the 9-11 Families had pled injuries “unique or almost unique to the Intervenors, and thus constitute special damages not suffered by the general public.”

“9-11 Families members are all U.S. citizen survivors of alien terrorist attacks in the United States” and “the terrorist, criminal or negligent actions of illegal aliens who have been issued a Maryland driver’s license or identification card was a proximate cause of the injuries they suffered in or following the 9-11 attacks, and will significantly increase the probability of a reoccurrence of such suffering in the future unless relief is granted.” The 9-11 Intervenors claimed to suffer “intense and ongoing pain, fear and anxiety… whenever traveling in or through Maryland.” That special pain, fear and anxiety was “based on the knowledge that MDOT and MVA openly continue to provide drivers licenses and identification cards to aliens – including the Plaintiffs – for whom no reliable verification of identity and legal residence has been obtained.” They compared their injuries to posttraumatic stress disorder.

In June 2006, the 9-11 Families appealed and also filed a Motion to Stay further proceedings until the appeal was adjudicated by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. That motion was also opposed by the plaintiffs but supported by the state defendants. On August 3, 2006, the Circuit Court granted IRLI’s stay request.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court decision on August 16, 2007, finding no error. 2007 Md. App. LEXIS 164. The opinion stated that the appellants’ interest were not in obtaining relief from their injuries but in deterring future attacks and thus “did not allege a sufficiently particularized interest to require intervention under the Maryland rules.” As appellants “did not purport to be at greater risk of terrorist attack than others,” nor “assert that they are at greater risk of pain and suffering if such an attack were to occur.” The “Plaintiffs challenge different policies and practices than the Appellants.” Id. The circuit court had also not abused its discretion in finding that permissive intervention would have prejudiced the plaintiffs. On Nov. 9, 2007, the Maryland Court of Appeals denied certiorari. 402 Md. 37 (2007).

See also:

IRLI Wins Major Victory in Maryland Illegal Alien Driver’s License Case, September 21, 2006

Legal Challenge by Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) Blocks Illegal Aliens from Receiving Maryland Driver’s Licenses, August 16, 2006

IRLI is a supporting organization of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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