Driver's license plan might help Md. track illegal aliens

January 15, 2008

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's approval rating dropped after the recent special session of the Maryland General Assembly, according to a statewide poll done by The (Baltimore) Sun.

O'Malley backers defend the session's tax increases as necessary to close a $1.7 billion deficit in the state's budget, but the governor's latest initiative is unlikely to boost his standing with voters.

Opponents should hold their fire, however, until more details are forthcoming. The proposal would actually tighten Maryland rules and could provide an easier way to get a handle on the number of undocumented immigrants in the state.

The governor's proposal would set up a two-tiered system for driver's licenses that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license.


The license would allow the undocumented drivers to legally operate a motor vehicle, but not to board an airplane, gain access to a federal building or cross borders. Legal immigrants would get a separate type of license.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor, said that the change is necessary because of new regulations governing the federal Real I-D program.

Abbruzzese noted that under current state law and precedents set by previous administrations, undocumented immigrants could get Maryland driver's licenses.

All right, then, so on the surface the change would tighten requirements for undocumented immigrants. But there are several things we don't want to see when this system is set up.

Undocumented immigrants should not get a pass from the requirement that all Maryland drivers must either have insurance or pay into the state's uninsured motorist fund.

Nor should there be any guarantee that the list of such drivers wouldn't be shared with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department. Such sharing is necessary to make certain that lawbreakers who've previously been deported aren't sneaking back into the country.

That raises another issue - how to ascertain that the applicants are who they say they are. A driver's license registry full of aliases won't aid the cause of homeland security.

Finally, if undocumented immigrants are given the opportunity to drive legally in Maryland, what will be done to those who continue to drive without a license?

In our view, the same penalty should apply to them as it does to any Maryland resident who drives without insurance - $150 for the first 30 days and $7 a day after that. Those who provide false evidence of insurance face a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. If the governor wants more people to obtain this privilege, he needs to make certain that doing so won't put other Maryland residents in jeopardy.

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