- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

Unless Gov. Robert Ehrlich is prepared to take a leadership role and fight for the integrity of state driver’s licenses — even if House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller and the rest of the Democratic bloc object — Maryland residents could be in for a rude awakening in 2008. That is the year they will learn that their driver’s licenses are no longer valid for such purposes as boarding an airplane or entering federal installations like the U.S. Naval Academy.

Under the federal REAL ID Act, which became law earlier this year, all states will be required by 2008 to follow certain commonsense rules, such as verifying that the applicant for a driver’s license is not an illegal alien and verifying that the documents a person presents when applying for a license are valid. The problem in Maryland is that — thanks to the efforts of open-borders advocacy groups like Casa of Maryland and Democrats in the legislature (most prominently House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario, a Prince George’s County Democrat who has used his power to kill reform legislation for the past few years) — the integrity of Maryland driver’s licenses is at risk of becoming a joke. In August, the nonpartisan Coalition For A Secure Driver’s License rated as “severe” the security risk posed by criminals or terrorists obtaining Maryland’s driver’s licenses. The ranking means that Maryland falls into the most lax category. (By contrast, the same survey ranks Virginia in the top category when it comes to protecting the integrity of its licenses.)

Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran issued an advisory opinion two years ago declaring that the Motor Vehicle Administration “may not deny a license to an individual because he or she is unable to prove lawful presence in this country.”This put then-MVA administrator Anne Ferro in the bizarre position of publicly declaring that her agency was not turning away illegal aliens who applied for driver’s licenses.

If anything, the situation is getting worse. CASA filed suit last month in Baltimore Circuit Court charging that the MVA is creating illegal barriers that make it impossible for immigrants, regardless of legal status, from obtaining licenses. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses the MVA of failing to provide a sufficient number of Spanish interpreters. If CASA prevails in court, it will in all likelihood result in a further weakening of Maryland law — making it even more likely that the state will fail to comply with REAL ID act requirements by 2008.

For the past two years, Republican Delegate Herbert McMillan has introduced legislation that would ensure the state would deny licenses to illegals, and both times the bills were killed by the Democrats. Mr. McMillan plans to introduce a similar bill in next year’s session. The legislation is critical to homeland security and deserves support, but it has no possibility of passing unless Mr. Ehrlich is prepared to endorse it and take an active role in fighting for its passage. We urge the governor to act now.

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