ANNAPOLIS – The Motor Vehicle Administration would stop issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens under a new bill that is drawing criticism from immigrant licensing advocates.
Delegate Herbert H. McMillan’s bill comes in the wake of a new Virginia law requiring all immigrant driver’s license applicants to prove lawful U.S. residence and a controversial opinion by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran.
The MVA, Curran determined, may require an applicant without a domestic birth certificate to show alternative forms of identification, including immigration-related documents. “However,” he wrote, “under Maryland Vehicle Law, a person’s inability to establish lawful presence in the United States is not a basis for denying that person a driver’s license.”
McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, called his legislation a pro-immigrant bill that “rewards those who play by our rules.”
“Anyway you look at it, this bill is a good bill,” McMillan said. “It’s a common sense bill. It’s a very simple bill.”
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, opposed the bill, saying more flexibility in accepting documents required for a license would lessen the motivation to provide fraudulent papers.
“We are interested in doing the exact opposite that Virginia did,” she said. Like-minded lawmakers’ purpose is to see “how the MVA can broaden the list of valid documents that individuals can present and that are not based solely on proof of legal residence.”
Immigration lawyer Denise C. Hammond said McMillan’s bill gives a false sense of security “by requiring lawful presence where in fact our national security is much stronger if we know who is in the country and where they are.”
“If you are going to require illegal immigrants to produce INS documents you are building in an incentive for them to present fraudulent identity documents,” she said.
Some 44,000 or so illegal immigrants in Maryland could be affected by the changes, according to 1996 estimates in the 2000 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The bill has bipartisan support, McMillan said, adding that granting a legal, government identification document to someone illegally residing in the country presents a conflict between state and federal laws.
“To me this isn’t an issue of party, but whether we’re going to have laws that compliment each other or laws that contradict each other,” he said.
“It’s the height of ironies to attempt to use our justice system to win something in court that they were unable to achieve in the Legislature last year,” McMillan said about the possibility of a state court allowing immigrants to get licenses without legislative approval. His bill would eliminate such a possibility.
“We do not really support the idea that the MVA should become an instrument of the Immigration Department. That’s a federal function,” Gutierrez said about McMillan’s proposal.
Last year, legislators considered a bill that would have granted driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Instead of passing the bill, it was amended, creating a task force to study the effects and practicality of such a change.
Gutierrez said the licensing issue in Maryland must be resolved soon: “There is an absolutely true need to regularize the driver situation.” – 30 – CNS-1-23-04