- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | In an online Spanish language chat room, people from all along the East Coast seek tips on how to get a driver’s license in Maryland, though they don’t live in Maryland.

Businesses run classified ads in Spanish-language publications in the District, Virginia and Maryland urging “undocumented Hispanic friends” to take advantage of the opportunity to get a Maryland ID without having to prove they are in the country legally.

In one case, Maryland motor vehicle officials say, 68 different people applying for licenses and IDs gave the same address for an 800-square-foot home in Baltimore.

Delegate Ronald A. George, Anne Arundel Republican, said the license policy is cheapening the value of a state ID.

“Our residents deserve licenses that are on an even playing field with other states,” said Mr. George, who has failed twice in getting the General Assembly to require the state to ensure license applicants are in the U.S. legally.

He is trying again this year, with a House bill, but this time with support from Gov. Martin O’Malley and other Democrats.

Maryland is one of just four states - the only one east of the Mississippi - where people don’t have to prove they are legal U.S. residents to get driver’s licenses.

Advocates for keeping such a policy in Maryland - and in Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington - argue that allowing illegal immigrants to get state-issued identification gives police broader databases when investigating crimes and increases the rate of auto-insurance coverage.

“It makes the streets safer for all of us,” said Delegate Jolene Ivey, Prince George’s Democrat, who supports continued access to Maryland licenses for illegal residents.

The problem, say officials with Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration, is that they’ve been overwhelmed with requests for identification appointments as other states have tightened requirements.

A Department of Legislative Services analysis assumed the state issued about 6,700 licenses and ID cards to illegal immigrants in 2008, but cautioned that exact statistics are tough to nail down. From July 2007 to June 2008, the MVA issued about 508,000 new licenses and 170,000 ID cards.

The agency’s chief, John Kuo, said the demand has outpaced the state’s foreign-born population growth. A toll-free number to book license appointments for noncitizens received 1 million attempted calls from all over the country in its first day of operation last year. The state, which only has 5.6 million residents, now limits hot-line access to people calling from Maryland.

Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for the immigrant advocacy organization CASA, says the group has found that one of the cheaper firms charges a $150 fee to make robocalls to license hot lines just to get license appointments.

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