Bills deal with driver's licenses for illegals

April 05, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Jeff Werner doesn't hate immigration.

In fact, he's "totally for immigration."

"Just come in and do it the legal way," said Werner, who lives in the North End of Hagerstown and has been active in groups combating the negative effects of illegal immigration.

That includes meeting citizenship requirements before being assigned a Maryland driver's license. Maryland is one of only four states in the United States -- and the only one on the Eastern seaboard -- that does not require proof of citizenship to receive a driver's license.

State lawmakers are considering two bills regarding driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

The first, which passed in the Senate, requires proof of citizenship to receive a license.

The second establishes a two-tiered driver's license -- effectively creating amnesty for the estimated 350,000 illegal immigrants who have been issued a Maryland driver's license since 2006. Those issued the limited license would be able to use it for driving, but not to board airplanes, go into federal buildings or cross borders.


Under the bill that passed in the House of Delegates, citizens would get a regular driver's license, and a type of second-tier driver's license would be issued to those who cannot prove citizenship.

Werner, who was active in Help Save Maryland, but is now forming his own Washington County group to advocate against illegal immigration, said the license restrictions supported by the Senate are what's best for Maryland.

Under that bill, driver's licenses issued to illegal immigrants in Maryland would no longer be valid.

A federal law going into effect this year would require Real ID, meaning states must prove that legal residents are issued a nationally recognized license.


Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign either driver's license bill, according to a spokeswoman.

However, most members of Washington County's delegation to Annapolis appear to favor allowing only lawful residents to be issued driver's licenses.

Every delegate representing Washington County was originally a co-sponsor of a bill in the House that required citizenship to receive a driver's license, and did not grant amnesty to those already carrying licenses.

When the bill was amended in the House to create the two-tiered driver's license, Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Washington and Frederick counties, did not have his name removed from the bill.

However, Dels. John P. Donoghue, LeRoy E. Myers Jr., Andrew A. Serafini and Christopher B. Shank, asked to have their names removed from the bill -- saying they no longer supported the legislation.

"Once they made all those changes it turned the whole bill upside down," said Donoghue, D-Washington. "Everyone who removed their name used the same excuse. The bill was not the bill that we signed onto. It was totally changed."

Shank, R-Washington, said under the bill creating a two-tiered system, an illegal immigrant would only have to show they have a pending citizenship application to be eligible for a driver's license.

"It creates a two-tiered driver's license that is susceptible to fraud and will allow people who are not legally present in the United States to have a driver's license and everything that goes with a driver's license," he said.

Shank said forms can be easily downloaded online, and the Motor Vehicle Administration would not verify that they had been processed.

"There has been well-documented fraud," Shank said. "And now this is just going to open up the floodgate to more fraud."

According to the MVA Web site, a Social Security number and other forms of identification are required in order to receive a Maryland driver's license. However, out-of-country applicants also currently can receive a license if they show an out-of-country driver's license and other foreign documentation.

Local opinion

"Do it the correct way," said Myers, R-Washington/Allegany. "Do it like everyone else has to. Be a citizen. Be documented."

Myers said the two-tiered system passed by the House makes Maryland a "sanctuary state."

Serafini, R-Washington, said the strongest argument for requiring citizenship for Maryland driver's licenses is those who have gone through the process of becoming legal U.S. citizens.

"When we allow people to receive a driver's license who are here illegally, it's unfair to those who have gone through the legal process ... which takes years and a lot of money," he said.

Serafini said lawmakers were told that some illegal immigrants were benefiting from in-state tuition at the state's colleges and universities because they held Maryland driver's licenses. He said that's not fair to legal residents who pay the taxes that go to those institutions.

Myers said he would vote for the version of the driver's license bills passed by the Senate, which forces everyone to "play by the same set of rules."

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill that required lawful presence in the U.S. to receive a license. That bill, which passed the Senate, will now be considered by lawmakers in the House.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, also voted in favor of the bill.

"Driving is a privilege granted to our citizens and those who are in this country lawfully, and this act takes an important step in protecting all of us," Munson said.

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