- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

As Americans have witnessed the Senate’s abysmal handling of the immigration issue, moderate Republicans say their constituents are demanding a tougher stance against illegals. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, for example, says that, three weeks ago, he supported a path to citizenship for illegals. After attending 18 community meetings in his district and learning how vehemently his constituents oppose this, Mr. Shays has reversed himself and now opposes citizenship for illegal aliens. Elected officials in Maryland (like Connecticut, one of the bluest of the blue states) would do well to rethink their own positions, particularly the fact that their state has become a mecca for illegals living outside the state who want to obtain driver’s licenses.

Last week, Keyona Summers of The Washington Times reported that, since March, the average weekly number of driver’s license applications by noncitizens has nearly doubled in Maryland, where legal residency is not required of applicants, and that much of the increase comes from illegals. “I heard that it’s easier [to get licenses] here because in other states you need documents,” but here it’s not required,” said one immigrant who refused to give her name.

After it was learned that seven of the 19 September 11 hijackers used Virginia driver’s licenses as a form of identification, the commonwealth barred illegals from obtaining driver’s licenses. Unfortunately, Maryland has been going in the opposite direction. Prior to to 2003, the Motor Vehicle Administration used an administrative procedure to effectively bar illegal aliens from obtaining Maryland driver’s licenses: a requirement that applicants present a valid Social Security number, something that illegals lack. But in 2003, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed into law what was supposed to have been a compromise package aimed at overhauling the system for issuing driver’s licenses. Before the bill was passed, however, the illegal-alien-friendly chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Joseph Vallario of Prince George’s County, managed to insert into the legislation what should have been a poison pill: language that stripped out a requirement that license applicants present a valid Social Security number.

To make things even worse, MVA administrator David Hugel admitted several months ago that Maryland has decided not to utilize a Homeland Security Department computer program that would permit the state to verify whether someone is legally in the United States. According to the nonpartisan Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, the security risk posed by the possibility that criminals or terrorists could obtain Maryland driver’s licenses is “severe” — meaning that Maryland falls into the most lax category when it comes to ensuring the integrity of its licenses.

Unless Maryland strengthens its standards to make them compliant with the federal Real ID Act — which will require all states to verify Social Security numbers and legal immigration status for driver’s license applicants by 2008 — Marylanders will be unable to use their licenses in order to board an airplane or enter government buildings. Until now, Mr. Ehrlich has taken the position that the subject can wait until 2007. But that means the Vallario position — giving driver’s licenses to illegals — will prevail for another year. That won’t do. Mr. Ehrlich should be looking for ways to utilize his executive powers and challenging the General Assembly to do the right thing right now.

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