Showdown Coming on Immigrant Driver's Licenses
One of the sleeper issues of the legislative session, whether Maryland should continue to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, is headed for a showdown in Annapolis in coming days.
Judicial committees in the Senate and House have passed opposing bills that are now headed for floor debates.The Senate version would require applicants for driver's licenses to verify that they are in the country legally before they can be issued one, meaning that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants would no longer be able to drive legally.
The House bill, approved late Thursday, would allow undocumented immigrants who now hold licenses to keep them. But the door for new applicants would close as soon as next month, when the Motor Vehicle Administration's popular "out-of-country" system would end.
When the drivers who would be grandfathered in by the new system renew their licenses, they would be issued a new permit to drive. But the card would not allow them to board planes, enter federal buildings or cross borders. In effect, it's a two-tiered system that's favored,albeit grudgingly, by immigrant rights advocates.
Both bills comply with the federal security law known as Real ID, which requires that states issue a license akin to a national identification card to legal U.S. residents. Maryland, New Mexico, Washington state and Hawaii are the only states that still grant licenses to immigrants without papers.
Whichever bill passes the General Assembly this year--and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is likely to sign one into law--the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants will be affected. The license issue has simmered in Annapolis for several years, with Republicans pushing legal presence proposals but being largely ignored until now.
Motor vehicle officials, who are pushing to end the current system and require a lawful presence of all drivers, say they are not driven by ideology but by concern that Maryland have a secure license system that falls in line with that of 46 other states.
March 26, 2009; 7:02 PM ET
Categories: Lisa Rein
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