Legislature should reconsider immigrant drivers license issue
In the early morning hours of June 22, 2010, a tragic accident occurred on I-83 involving a drunk driver which resulted in the death of his passenger. This is an accident which could have been prevented not only by the choices of the drunk driver, but also by the state of Maryland. Due to a recent law, Freddy Cortez Flores, an illegal immigrant was driving that night with a legally issued Maryland driver’s license. The law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain legal driver’s licenses was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor in 2009.
This accident occurred only four years after a similar accident in Howard County during the 2006 Thanksgiving holiday. A United States Marine, at home on leave from serving in Iraq and the driver, were killed at a traffic light by a drunk driver who was also an illegal immigrant and had a blood alcohol content which was four times the legal limit. Much like the recent accident, it is one which could have been prevented, as the driver was legally driving with a Maryland driver’s license. Yet, the Maryland General Assembly remained passive on this issue.
Again, assessing this recent tragic accident and its predecessor, it raises the question should illegal residents be allowed to obtain drivers licenses in the state of Maryland? I believe the answer is absolutely no. Let me explain my reasons.
In 2009, I, along with several of my Republican colleagues, co-sponsored legislation (House Bill 387) that would have required Maryland to finally comply with the Federal Real ID Act passed in 2005. Unfortunately, the original co-sponsors, including myself, removed our names from the bill subsequent to the Democratic opponents’ introduction of an amendment that would “grandfather” amnesty for illegal aliens who already have a Maryland driver’s license. The passage of the “grandfather” clause is twofold. It provides amnesty for those unlawfully present to renew their license every five years without proof of lawful presence (like the drivers involved in the two accidents I mentioned). Secondly, it creates a two-tier system of licensing in Maryland that is not only confusing but continues to cost taxpayers and drives up MVA costs. Because of this law a growing total of twelve states, including Arizona, do not accept a Maryland driver’s license as an accepted form of identification.
As I mentioned, the original language of House Bill 387 was actually aimed at finally ending the debate, and resolving the question regarding the issuance of driver’s licenses and identification cards to illegal immigrants. The original legislation was resoundingly supported by a popular opinion poll, which at the time was in agreement with the position of the original bill. The 2009 poll done by the Schaefer Center for Public Policy, University of Baltimore, February 2009, stated that 81 per cent of Marylanders favored a single-tier system Despite the overwhelming opinion to not allow illegal immigrants to legally drive, the majority party had eliminated all language from the bill requiring the applicant to be a United States citizen and have proof of documentation with a Social Security number to be considered eligible for a Maryland driver’s license.
The need for the majority party to enact legislation such as the two-tier system, is based on a decision by then Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who declared in 2003, “that the state cannot deny someone a license based solely on his or her inability to prove legal residence” (Maryland Gazette, December 6, 2006).
A strong influence on the majority party’s position is an organization called Casa de Maryland. This organization is highly influential on lawmakers, especially their votes on critical pieces of legislation concerning illegal immigration. Their committed efforts and strong hold on legislators in Annapolis are the reason House Bill 387 was drastically modified. Similarly, it is the reason there are also proposed bills which would exempt illegal immigrants from paying non-resident tuition at public institutions of higher education in Maryland. Such bills are continually being introduced each general session with the aid of Casa de Maryland. Moreover, Casa de Maryland continues to push their agenda on Maryland taxpayers by using taxpayer money to lobby the majority party’s approval for further funding in the state’s annual budget. For example, Casa de Maryland recently received $200,000 in state funding for fiscal year 2011. In other words, our taxpayer money is going to fund an organization that supports illegal immigrants obtaining legal driver’s licenses, and influences the policy of the majority party concerning issues dealing with the status of illegal immigrants.
It is my position that Maryland cannot afford to continue to foster illegal immigrant drivers in our state. The legislature’s 2009 bill and now law, is a testament to the majority party’s lack of will to take a monumental step forward on public safety and immigration enforcement under enacted federal law. Instead, the current policy further substantiates my conclusion that this legislative body’s intention is to facilitate amnesty, not punishment.
In the 2011 general session this issue should be re-examined with consideration of the current consequences of the law. I will continue to take this issue to heart and I hope that my colleagues in both parties will agree. Otherwise, I believe political agendas will undermine the legislation of good public policy, and additional tragedies will be the result.
J.B. Jennings, Joppa
Hagerstown, MD 21742