- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Maryland House of Delegates struck an uneasy compromise last week on a bill that would, in effect, allow thousands of illegal immigrants to renew their driver’s licenses but require proof of legal status to obtain a new license beginning next month.

Opponents say the measure would create two classes of driver’s licenses for those who can or cannot prove legal status - for example, with a Social Security number or a pay stub - and also provide a backdoor amnesty for those staying in the country illegally.

“It’s a bait and switch - it’s an amnesty bill under a different name,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican.

The amended bill, which is expected to pass the House this week, purports to bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which requires states to set tighter standards for documenting residents.

Maryland is one of only four states - along with Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington state - that do not check the immigration status of persons trying to obtain a driver’s license. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) officials came out against the current practice last month.

The situation has gotten so bad that businesses run classified ads in Spanish-language publications in the District, Virginia and Maryland urging “undocumented Hispanic friends” to take advantage of the opportunity to get a Maryland ID without having to prove they are in the country legally.

In one case, Maryland motor vehicle officials say, 68 people applying for licenses and identification cards gave the same address for an 800-square-foot home in Baltimore.

The House bill would require proof of legal status to obtain a driver’s license after April 19, but as amended it would allow those without such proof to renew their licenses. The latter group would be given licenses deemed “federally noncompliant” and would not be permitted at airports and other federal buildings.

The bill was originally drafted so that no one without proof of legal status could obtain or renew a driver’s license, but was amended late Thursday night during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

Supporters said that trying to prevent an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants in the state from being able to drive is not practical.

“They’re here; they have jobs; they drive to work; they take their children to school. What do you suppose we do with all those who won’t have licenses now?” said Delegate Curtis S. Anderson, Baltimore City Democrat.

Republicans on the committee said they had been duped into supporting the measure because they had not been given time to review the 24 pages of changes.

“It highlights the bad process that goes on down here [in Annapolis]. We simply didn’t have time to digest it,” said Delegate Susan K. McComas, Harford Republican.

Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, Montgomery Democrat, said the amended bill allowed the state to meet 18 benchmarks set by the Real ID Act, such as ensuring applicants have some proof of lawful status. The original bill had required applicants to offer “proof of legal presence,” which Miss Dumais said cannot be legally defined.

“I don’t think anyone can tell me what lawful presence is, and neither can the MVA,” she said.

During an extended floor debate Friday, dozens of sponsors of the bill, both Republican and Democrat, removed their names after efforts to change the bill to its original form had failed.

Delegate Ron George, Ann Arundel Republican and a key sponsor of the original bill, said the amendments had completely reversed the intentions of his bill.

“This amended bill creates a separate class, and it rewards those who are doing something unlawful. That’s not what we intended, and that’s not what the governor intended,” Mr. George said.

Mr. O’Malley said through aides that he had not yet decided whether to support the new bill.

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