Dec 18 2008

Maryland Seeks to Change License Policy on Immigration In Order to Implement REAL ID System

Maryland’s governor and transportation secretary have announced that they will seek legislation to change the state’s long-standing policy on driver’s license registration and require proof of legal residence before issuing the cards to state residents. Maryland is hoping to make this change as it begins implementing the federal REAL ID national identification system. The governor had rejected a previous proposal for a two-tier system that would have allowed the issuance of a lower-tier license to individuals unwilling to show such proof.

According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Association’s site, REAL ID implementation means that. “Effective January 1, 2010, individuals applying for a new license will be required to show documentation to prove that they are in the United States legally.” Driver’s license applicants will have to show “Documents such as Social Security Card, U.S. Birth Certificate, U.S. Naturalization of Citizenship, Valid U.S. Passport, Valid Foreign Passport with Visa, U.S. Permanent Residency Card” or other documents to prove their legal presence in the United States.

We have previously detailed the many privacy and security problems that arise from requiring such documentation for a state driver’s license, but let’s focus on the immigration issue that Maryland is attempting to address.

First, the REAL ID card (as DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has admitted already) is able to be forged. This means that undocumented immigrants will still be able to buy either fake cards or real licenses with fake information on them, which is a huge loophole for the supposed increased security that Maryland claims will occur with this residency requirement.

Second, immigration questions are the duties of the federal government. If the federal government believes it is failing to keep out undocumented immigrants, then it should fix its own processes instead of foisting its responsibilities onto the states.

Third, the undocumented immigrants who won’t be able to afford to buy their own REAL ID cards will be without driver’s licenses. Driver’s licenses are named such because they exist in order to show an individual’s fitness for driving. It is not about immigration. If people don’t have licenses, then they can’t get insurance. This change by the state motor vehicle association will likely be expensive for Maryland drivers. If more people don’t have licenses, then they won’t have insurance for when there are accidents.

Driver’s licenses should continue to be issued based on driving ability and not be corrupted with immigration questions. There are already identification documents for immigration or citizenship status; if those are necessary for a transaction then require them for those transactions. Don’t start requiring identification documents broadly out of some misguided attempt at security.

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