Undocumented Workers Begin Process of Getting Drivers' Licenses in Maryland

Licenses will allow them to drive legally, but will include wording to indicate the licenses can't be used for voting or boarding planes

Undocumented workers in Maryland can begin the process of getting limited drivers' licenses Monday.

The licenses will allow them to drive legally, but will include wording to indicate the licenses aren't for federal use. Holders of the licenses wouldn't be able to use them as voter ID or to board planes.

Applicants will have to show proof of identification, provide two years of state income tax filings, and pass a written and a driving exam before getting the license, known as a federally non-compliant driver's license/ID.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Maryland had allowed thousands of residents -- both undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens without birth certificates -- to hold limited driver's licenses. The state had stopped issuing new licenses to those groups, although those who had them already were grandfathered in.

Now, immigrants with foreign documentation, but lacking valid U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services documents, will be able to get licenses beginning Jan. 1.

The first step is to schedule an appointment, which undocumented workers can begin making Monday, said Philip Dacey, a spokesperson for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. The MVA won't accept walk-in applicants for the new licenses.

Advocacy group CASA de Maryland has launched an education program to help guide immigrants through the process of obtaining licenses.

"It's not like you're going to move here and wait for two years to get a driver's license," said Maryland Sen. Victor Ramirez, who introduced the bill, known as the Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013. "If you don't have a job, if you don't have a family, then Maryland isn't your home."

The Maryland state legislature passed the bill in early spring, adding Maryland to a growing list of states -- New Mexico, Washington, Utah and Illinois -- allowing the second-tier licenses. Since then, California and Connecticut have passed similar bills.

In addition, the D.C. Council is expected to vote Tuesday on the issue.

Supporters of the new law in Maryland have said the licenses will reduce the likelihood of hit-and-run accidents, and will take the burden off families who may have only one, or no, legal drivers.

Andrea Gonzalez, a U.S. citizen, told News4 earlier this year she's the only one in her family who can drive legally. She drives her husband, an undocumented immigrant, to work each day.

"[I have to] drive him where he gets picked up for work, and then to drive my daughter to school, then to drive myself to work," Gonzalez said. Earlier this year, she broke some toes and had to drive herself to the hospital, she said.

But opponents of the new law have argued that the bill could encourage more undocumented immigrants to move to Maryland.

Del. Kelly Schulz told News4 earlier this year that her constituents didn't want the law to be changed, saying immigrants here without documentation shouldn't be granted the same privileges as those who are.

"They're undocumented; they're here illegally according to the federal government," Schulz said. "We're providing them with some state-issued benefit."


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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