A magistrate declined this morning to prevent the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles from canceling the registrations of nearly 45,000 vehicles largely driven by undocumented immigrants. Franklin County Common Pleas Court Magistrate Pamela Browning declined to grant a preliminary injunction against the BMV sought by the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Beginning early Wednesday, it will be illegal for thousands of immigrants to drive Ohio’s roads. The BMV is canceling their vehicle registrations for failing to prove they are legal U.S. residents.

Police can stop those driving with revoked registrations and issue tickets and seize license plates. Drivers who cannot provide adequate identification risk going to jail, with undocumented immigrants potentially facing deportation.

Browning ruled that there was no evidence of “unjustifiable harm” to immigrants and that BMV had a compelling public-safety interest in canceling the questioned registrations. The state is properly enforcing registration laws and the agency is not demanding anything different from Latinos than is demanded from all Ohioans who register vehicles, Browning found.

The Latino organization can seek to overturn Browning’s ruling by filing an appeal with Common Pleas Court Judge Guy Reece. The group’s state director, Jason Riveiro, said an appeal is planned by the end of the week.

Fearing thousands of fraudulent vehicle registrations could have been issued to immigrants, the BMV began a crackdown on Oct. 8. The state mailed 47,457 letters to those with questioned registrations instructing them to appear at BMV offices by today and provide a state driver’s license or ID number or a Social Security number so their identities could be verified. While the BMV’s letter said that registrations would be cancelled effective Dec. 8, the agency decided to wait until Wednesday to take the action to provide those affected with a full 60 days notice, said spokeswoman Lindsay Komlanc.

As of last week, fewer than 6 percent had provided identification and updated their registrations. Undocumented immigrants typically don’t have state-issued identification and Social Security numbers.

Latino leaders and lawyers had argued that the state had no authority to cancel the registrations and suggested the state illegally was delving into the immigration status of Ohio residents. Komlanc said the BMV was pleased that the magistrate’s ruling found that the state’s action is legal.

The threat to revoke license plates has prompted some immigrants to move out of Ohio and depressed business at Latino-owned businesses, some Latino leaders have said. Riveiro denounced the state “fish hunt,” saying it had cast a wide net that snared immigrants who make significant contributions to the state’s economy.

Investigators’ findings suggest that thousands of vehicles may have been registered fraudulently through so-called “runners” — legal U.S. residents who collected fees from undocumented immigrants to register vehicles on their behalf.

BMV changes to weed out fraudulent registrations began on Aug. 24. The reforms were delayed for more than a year after former Public Safety Director Henry Guzman met with Latino business owners and then asked for improvements to the policy. The state inspector general is investigating the delay and the role of “runners.”

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