- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is withholding support from Republican-sponsored legislation that would bar illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses, despite Maryland’s reputation as an easy place for them to get such identification.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, is waiting for the federal government to set standards for the Real ID Act, which will require all states to verify Social Security numbers, legal immigration status and other vital records for driver’s license applicants by 2008, said Joseph M. Getty, Mr. Ehrlich’s policy director.

“Until the [federal] regulations come back, we don’t want to get ahead of the game,” Mr. Getty said.

He said the administration likely will act next year to make driver’s licenses meet the standards of Real ID, which by March 2008 will be the only identification accepted for boarding an airplane, opening a bank account, collecting Social Security and using most government services.

Delegate Herb McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican and lead sponsor of the Maryland bill, said he is puzzled by the governor’s stance.

“Why would you wait two years to do this?” he said. “Why would you wait until the [federal] deadline not to give a driver’s license to someone here illegally?”

House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell agreed. “If it’s a good idea in ‘08, why not do it now?” said the Southern Maryland Republican.

Mr. McMillan’s bill has 46 sponsors, including 11 Democrats, but the legislation is expected to die in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. likely will keep the bill in the drawer, denying it a committee vote or a chance to reach the full chamber. The committee killed an identical bill by Mr. McMillan last year.

Mr. Vallario, Prince George’s Democrat, said illegal aliens will keep getting driver’s licenses “until we change the law, if we change the law.”

Mr. Ehrlich, who is seeking re-election this year, often has taken a tough stand on immigration issues, including denying taxpayer-funded medical care for some legal immigrants and supporting immigration checks at day-laborer centers.

Casa of Maryland, an immigrant-advocacy group, sued the administration, saying it was making it difficult for foreign-born applicants to get driver’s licenses.

Still, Republican political consultant Carol L. Hirschburg said she did not think the governor’s resistance to Mr. McMillan’s bill is part of a campaign strategy.

“I wouldn’t be too quick to attach political motives,” she said. “I know the governor is strong on homeland security. If it was something he thought should be done immediately, he would do it.”

The Democratic candidates for governor — Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan — have been criticized for encouraging illegal aliens to settle in their jurisdictions. Both have said illegal immigration should be addressed by federal authorities, not state or local government.

Maryland, which has an estimated 100,000 illegal residents, is one of 11 states ranked as a “severe” security risk because of lax identification requirements to obtain driver’s licenses, according to the nonpartisan Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License.

The other states at severe risk because they do not check immigration status and visa expiration dates or verify Social Security numbers are Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Maryland used to check Social Security numbers, a requirement that should stop illegal aliens from acquiring licenses.

However, a 2003 law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Mr. Ehrlich eliminated that requirement. The change was sponsored by Mr. Vallario.

Virginia and the District ranked among the most secure jurisdictions because they verify legal residency, visa expiration dates and the Social Security numbers of driver’s license applicants.

Virginia imposed strict identification rules after it was learned that several of the September 11 terrorists used Virginia licenses.

Eighteen of the 19 hijackers had multiple driver’s licenses or state identification cards.

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