ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally will be able to obtain a Maryland driver’s license or identification card under a new law.
The law, which takes effect Wednesday, expands a program Maryland adopted in 2009 to comply with tighter federal identification rules. It created a two-tiered license, so people who did not have a social security number or lawful status before a 2009 deadline could still get a license allowing them to drive. The new law repeals the limitation and ends a scheduled 2015 termination date for such licenses to be issued or renewed.
The second-tier license will have the same colors as a standard driver’s license, but will say across the top that it’s not legal for federal uses, such as entering federal buildings or boarding a plane. The license or identification card also cannot be used to buy a firearm.
To apply for the second-tier license, drivers will need to show some form of identification, such as a birth certificate or passport. Applicants will have to pass written and road exams. They also will be required to provide two years of state income tax filings to prove long-term residency.
Supporters say the law is needed for safety, because it will allow immigrants to take driver’s education classes and get insurance coverage. The Motor Vehicle Administration says unlicensed drivers are much more likely to cause an accident.
“People need to be insured,” said Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat who sponsored the measure. “People need to be trained. I think at the end of the day, it makes all of our lives safer.”
Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the new law will create security concerns, put a strain on infrastructure and increase costs.
“This last bill opens the gates wide open, and it’s going to put lines around the MVA again,” George said.
The MVA estimates that about 95,000 people without lawful immigration status will have been issued driver’s licenses before the new law takes effect. It’s estimated more than 100,000 people whose immigration status currently would have prevented them from applying will qualify for a second-tier Maryland driver’s license.
Ten other states and the District of Columbia have enacted measures to give driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, many in the past year, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Some of those states issue only one kind of license. But laws in many, including Oregon and Colorado, create distinctions between the license given to immigrants and the one issued to other drivers.
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