- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A Maryland legislator said yesterday she hopes an opinion issued by the state’s attorney general makes it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Delegate Ana S. Gutierrez, Montgomery County Democrat, said illegal aliens are being denied driver’s licenses illegally and hopes an opinion written by state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will persuade the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to follow the law.

Mr. Curran said immigration documents can be used when other identification is unavailable, but “an applicant’s inability to prove lawful presence in the United States is not itself grounds for denial of a license.”

He also said the MVA cannot deny licenses to people because they are “unable to prove lawful presence” in the United States.

Miss Gutierrez said the opinion, which has been forwarded to the MVA, is “very important” because it clarifies the law.

The MVA now requires applicants who do not have a U.S. birth certificate to provide proof of identification using a valid passport with visa or other immigration documents.

The MVA also considers such primary and secondary documents as school, utility and telephone records, out-of-state and international driver’s license or a tax identification card.

However, Miss Gutierrez said some illegal immigrants cannot get licenses despite having the requisite documents.

“It is more than people who are undocumented who are having trouble,” she said.

Mr. Curran was unavailable yesterday for comment, but his chief counsel, Robert N. McDonald, said he expected illegal immigrants who have the required documents to now be able to obtain the licenses.

“Generally, state agencies conform to what the state law is” after an opinion is issued, he said.

MVA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said the opinion supports the processes and procedures already in place at the agency and that she has no knowledge of illegal immigrants being turned away.

“They are referred to the managers at each branch if they are having any problems,” she said. “If it has to do with out-of-country documentation, they are referred to the ombudsman.”

Virginia and about 25 other state governments have enacted laws stopping illegal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.

California recently began allowing illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, which prompted the advocacy group known as U.S. Border Control to ask Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to ban the use of California driver’s licenses as identification for boarding airplanes.

Members of the group are concerned that the state only requires a federal taxpayer identification number or matricula consular card (identification issued by the Mexican government) as identification. They fear loosening the restriction may make the United States vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has signed a bill calling for a task force to investigate state licensing. Miss Gutierrez is a member of the task force.

“In the United States [driving] is an essential mode of transportation,” Miss Gutierrez said. “People who need to get to work are driving without driver licenses and most importantly without insurance, and that is dangerous.”

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