- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

As the legislative session in Annapolis grinds on, it looks less and less likely that anything will be done to alter what has become a national embarassment: the fact that Maryland has become one of the easiest states in the country when it comes to permitting illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses.

We oppose permitting the federal government to micromanage the issuing of driver’s licenses, which is clearly a state responsibility. But if we have learned anything from September 11, it is the ease with which the hijackers were able to obtain driver’s licenses and use them as a form of identification. America is only as strong as its weakest link. And among the 50 states, Maryland has one of the worst records when it comes to protecting the integrity of its licenses.

According to the nonpartisan Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, the security risk posed by the possibility that criminals or terrorists could obtain Maryland driver’s licenses is “severe” — meaning that Maryland falls into the most lax category. And the situation has actually gotten worse in recent years. Before 2003, the Motor Vehicle Administration had an administrative procedure in place which effectively barred illegal aliens from obtaining licenses — the requirement that applicants present a valid Social Security number, something that illegals lack.

But in 2003, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed into law what was supposed to have been a compromise package aimed at overhauling the system for issuing driver’s licenses. Before the bill was passed, however, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the very shrewd Del. Joseph Vallario, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is very accomodating toward illegals, managed to insert into the legislation a poison bill: language that effectively stripped out a requirement that Maryland driver’s license applicants present a valid Social Security number.

Even more troubling, MVA Administrator David Hugel admitted last week that Maryland is not utilizing a Department of Homeland Security computer program which would permit the state to verify whether someone is legally in the country. Although Maryland’s agreement with DHS allows it to use the system to determine whether someone is legally present in the United States, Mr. Hugel wrote, the MVA does not use it for this purpose. In other words, being an illegal alien is no bar to receiving a Maryland driver’s license.

“I don’t have anything redeeming to say” about Maryland’s approach to driver’s licenses and homeland security, said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA, a nonpartisan group that supports a tough stance against illegal immigration. “There is an effort by legislators in Maryland to service this population [illegals]. In terms of security, if illegal aliens — including potential terrorists, have [driver’s licenses], they can establish an identity in any form they like,” Miss Jenks said. For homeland security to be effective, she added, it is essential that states like Maryland “do their part” when it comes to ensuring the integrity of driver’s licenses. Clearly, that is not happening now.

The one bit of good news is that, even in a blue state like Maryland, illegal-alien advocates, who sense that their political position is weakening, are looking for some kind of deal. Delegate Herbert McMillan, Anne Arundel County Republican, now has 46 sponsors for his bill to deny driver’s licenses to illegals. So, some Democrats have suggested that Maryland adopt a plan in use in Tennesee, in which illegals are given “certificates” permitting them to drive. But Tennesee announced nine days ago that it was suspending the certificate program because it is detrimental to public safety; specifically, federal and state authorities have arrested members of black-market rings involved in smuggling illegals from South and Central America into Tennessee in order to obtain driver’s licenses and other fake identity documents. Yet as Tennessee is trying to end the certificates boondoggle, legislators want to adopt it in Maryland.

For now, the question remains: Where does Mr. Ehrlich stand?

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