- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

BALTIMORE — A state task force is preparing to issue a long-awaited report that recommends the state keep its current rules restricting illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses, members of the panel said yesterday.

A draft of the report, approved by the task force but not yet submitted to lawmakers, could relieve the General Assembly from the job of legislating how immigrants can obtain licenses.

The 11-member panel, after 13 months of investigating the issues surrounding immigration documentation, says in its report that no changes in the law are needed. The board recommends instead a few changes to the state Motor Vehicle Administration’s (MVA) rules.

The panel ditched the most substantive proposal, which would have allowed those with foreign consulate-issued identification cards to receive licenses. The recommendations, which are not binding, call for the MVA to keep requiring documents that have been validated by a federal or state government agency.

“I think it’s a victory for security, which is obviously necessary in a post-9/11 world,” said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Washington County Republican.

The recommendations do give other victories to advocates of immigrants. For example, they advise that the MVA:

• Allow expired green cards and other expired U.S. government documents to be accepted as identity documents.

• Allow “undocumented youths” who have been in the United States for several years to prove their identification with certified school records.

• Outline an appeal process for those denied a license. The process would allow the MVA administrator, administrative judges and circuit court judges to review the application.

Legislation proposed by lawmakers last year that failed would have allowed those with consulate-issued identification cards to get driver’s licenses, panel members said. But without a stamp from a U.S. government agency, officials can’t allow those IDs to stand on their own, Mr. Shank said.

“I think it would be a devastating hole in our security system to allow people to use these to get driver’s licenses,” he said.

Most consular IDs used here are from Mexico, although El Salvador and Guatemala also issue the cards.

The General Assembly called for the creation of a task force, which began work in October 2003. On the panel were three House delegates, one senator and representatives of the MVA, state police, the state Department of Homeland Security, the American Immigration Law-yers Association and the Maryland Catholic Conference.

The board met a dozen times, said Chairman Geoffrey S. Tobias, who was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

The panel was split between those who advocated for licenses for illegal immigrants and those who strongly opposed that measure, and meetings often were contentious, members said.

“I thought there was going to be a train crash,” said state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat who said he often was the swing vote.

He said the primary force driving one side was “not wanting to make Maryland a place where terrorists could get a license quickly,” adding that “the other side wanted to address the concerns of 100,000 Marylanders, mostly Latinos, who have been denied driver’s licenses.”

The report, Mr. Shank said, “essentially gets the General Assembly off the hook” in terms of writing legislation.

Set to be filed with the governor’s office and legislative leaders Dec. 1, the report represents a hard-fought compromise, Mr. Giannetti said. Although immigrant advocates lost a bid to recognize consular IDs, he said, the other concessions are fair to those who are here legally and deserve to argue their case for getting licenses.

“I think all members of the task force agree that we had a difficult assignment and worked hard to provide useful conclusions,” Mr. Tobias said yesterday.

The committee approved the draft by a 9-2 vote Friday.

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