Thursday, March 8, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers yesterday continued efforts to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining state driver’s licenses.

“The driver’s license is the basic identification document for nearly everyone in America,” said Sen. Janet Greenip, Anne Arundel Republican and lead sponsor of the proposal to bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. “When we open a bank account, when we enter a building, we use our driver’s license to prove our identity.”

Mrs. Greenip’s proposal would require driver’s license applicants to present proof of “legal presence” or that they live legally in the United States.

Maryland is one of seven states that does not require applicants to show “legal presence” to obtain a license.

Bill supporters told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee they were concerned about public safety and potential terrorist attacks because one of the September 11 hijackers obtained a Maryland driver’s license.

“I live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which has been in [newspapers] quite recently, and is really on its way to becoming the first authentic barrio in the county,” said Susan Payne of Citizens Above Party. “The poison that’s coming out of this state, known as the Maryland driver’s license, has to be stopped because it’s infecting the entire country.”

Opponents of the proposal said it is impractical to expect the estimated 250,000 illegal aliens in the state to not drive to their jobs.

“Although most [illegal aliens] have been drawn to fill essential jobs, … the system provides no mechanism for them to regularize their immigration status,” said CASA of Maryland spokeswoman Kim Propeack in prepared testimony.

But the administrator of the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) said a “legal presence” requirement would have made it harder for one of the September 11 hijackers to obtain a state driver’s license.

“It would definitely make it a lot more difficult,” said John T. Kuo, MVA administrator.

Federal lawmakers passed the Real ID Act in 2005, establishing essentially a national identification card through state driver’s licenses.

Maryland has until May 2008 to comply with the act but may apply for a waiver that would last until December 2009.

Barring illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses became an even bigger issue for many state lawmakers after an Iraq war veteran was killed in a car accident involving an illegal alien in Howard County on Thanksgiving.

Police arrested Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, 25, an illegal alien from Mexico, and charged him with drunken driving and two counts each of vehicular homicide and manslaughter while intoxicated in the crash that killed Cpl. Brian Mathews of Columbia, Md.

The MVA is awaiting Real ID Act guidelines from the federal Department of Homeland Security. But the agency must wait on action from the legislature and the governor before it requires proof of residency, said Buel Young, an MVA spokesman.

If Maryland does not comply with the act, state driver’s licenses would no longer be accepted identification for entrance into federal buildings or travel on airplanes.

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