What Illegal Immigration Has Got to Do with Driver Licenses: Maryland’s Lament (Updated 1/23/09)

By Janice Kephart, December 17, 2008

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In 1993, Tina Turner lamented about love in What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Fifteen years later, in 2008, Maryland is publicly lamenting about the effect of permitting illegal immigrants to get driver licenses. A bit tongue in cheek—please—Maryland’s lyric might go something like this: Oh what’s illegal immigration got to do, got to do with driver licenses?

Both the 9/11 Commission and the REAL ID law (mainly based on the states’ own detailed post-9/11 technical recommendations – see box below) called upon states to secure their ID issuance authorities. These initiatives pointed to the ease with which terrorists and others seek to obfuscate law and exploit vulnerabilities in order to illegally obtain driver licenses and IDs using counterfeit documents and false identities.

AAMVA DL/ID Security Framework

A Package of Decisions Based on Best Practices, Standards, Specifications and Recommendations to Enhance Driver’s License Administration and Identification Security (Feb. 2004).

7.2 Licensing Noncitizens

Requirement #11:All jurisdictions that accept an immigration document as a source document shall tie the end-of stay date to the expiration date of the driver’s license/identification card (see Appendix “15-7.2-03 End of Stay and DL/ID Expiration procedures”).

Recommendation #5:All jurisdictions should not grant a photo driver’s license/identification card to an undocumented immigrant see Appendix “16-7.2-03 AAMVA Board of Directors Resolution 03-09: Position on Issuing Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Aliens”).

The number of noncitizens (both legal and illegal) applying for a DL/ID has steadily increased in recent years. A documented immigrant may have one of several status classifications, which may cause confusion when he/she applies for a DL/ID. Immigration status and an immigrant’s length-of-stay in the country have been identified as factors in national security. DL/ID issuance of immigrants must therefore be a consistent, accurate and secure process.

7.2.2 Undocumented Immigrants

In May 2003, AAMVA recommended that jurisdictions not grant a photo DL/ID to an undocumented immigrant. To strengthen the security of the photo DL/ID and the issuance process associated with it, it is necessary to increase the standards for an individual proving his/her identity to obtain a license. Increasing standards for all individuals strengthens uniformity, encourages reciprocity in motor vehicle administration and enhances highway safety enforcement(p. 23-24).

Apparently, the world has been calling Maryland to get driver licenses. One of only four states (the others being New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington) which still issue illegal immigrants driver licenses, and the only state on the east coast, Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo testified yesterday before the state legislature that his agency needs to shore up its defenses against mounting crime that he says is coming from the increased out-of-state demand from illegal immigrants seeking Maryland driver licenses. Calling his state a “pass-through” for illegal immigrants attempting to obtain driver licenses and IDs to better embed in the United States, his agency received over 300,000 out-of-state (and out-of-country) requests for application appointments just last year.

Rather than raising revenue for the state, this is illegal immigration is straining DMV resources, and Kuo wants to require all applicants to provide documentation of legal residence. His tales include increased costs due to “consumer” demand, rising fraud in the application process, and budget woes that have spread into health and education resources, taxing scarce assets further. Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari urged immediate action, stating that the security of the licensing system is at stake and the legislature needs to act to revise its licensing requirements now. The statements of these government officials, who a year ago were at best lukewarm about REAL ID and its security measures, bear out predictions that states would experience significant fraud if they failed to tighten up their rules to meet requirements of REAL ID while neighboring states did so.

Maryland is living proof that states which refuse to comply with measures that better ensure the secure issuance of driver licenses and ID cards — and verify the identity of those they provide those licenses and IDs to — will become a magnet for illicit activity. Illegal immigrants use the same types of measures as the 9/11 terrorists did to embed here — basic fraud combined with an exploitation of the largest vulnerabilities available in state ID issuance. The hijackers used two falsely obtained residency certificates to obtain seven Virginia IDs within six weeks of 9/11, and then used those IDs to appear like assimilated Americans at the airline check-in counters on the morning of 9/11. How many of those 300,000 out-of-state calls for driver’s license appointments have resulted in embedding tactics to get jobs, commit crime, or steal an innocent identity?

What is interesting is that Maryland — via its own experience — seems to be on board with REAL ID now and is not wishing for repeal, but money. It seems, indeed, that Maryland is keenly aware that, as Tina Turner might have put it, illegal immigration has got to do with driver licenses.

The message to President-elect Obama and Department of Homeland Security nominee Napolitano seems clear: if we undo REAL ID and the policies that surround secure ID issuance, and we might find that we have undone the progress towards security already apparent in most states, resulting in increased fraud and identity theft at a time when people need to pinch pennies and consumer credit can’t be risked.

Below is the Washington Post article:

State to Seek Bill Tying Legal Status to Driver's Licenses
By Lisa Rein
The Washington Post, December 16, 2008

Maryland's transportation secretary said yesterday that the state will move ahead with legislation to require immigrants to prove they are legal residents before they can drive.

If approved by the General Assembly during the legislative session that begins next month, the change would reverse a long-standing policy that makes Maryland one of four states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

The move follows an announcement 11 months ago by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) that, in its effort to comply with the federal security law known as Real ID, Maryland would require immigrants to prove a "lawful" presence to be able to legally drive. In effect, O'Malley reversed a plan that his transportation secretary had set in motion to develop a two-tier system that would have issued separate licenses to undocumented immigrants and legal residents.

States have until 2010 to begin complying with Real ID. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for homeland security secretary, has criticized the law for the costs it imposes on states and said Arizona would not comply. Many legislatures and governors have said they hope the Obama administration will scale back the law's provisions.

But Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari said yesterday that the legislature must act this year or risk the security of its licensing system. "The timelines compel us to do something this session," Porcari said after his staff briefed lawmakers on the proposal.

In the past year, four more states have imposed legal-presence mandates, officials said, leaving Maryland, New Mexico, Hawaii and Washington as the only ones that allow undocumented immigrants to drive. With Maryland the only such state on the East Coast, it is becoming a "pass-through" for nonresidents who try to obtain licenses, state Motor Vehicle Administrator John T. Kuo said.

Under a program complying with Real ID, all residents seeking licenses would be required to show Social Security cards, passports or military identification to prove their legal status, Kuo said.

Porcari said he expects a bill to be introduced by the governor or transportation agency. The resulting debate would probably pit the O'Malley administration against immigrant advocates who say the policy change would be a setback for thousands of immigrants.

"Given the new [Obama] administration, why should we be moving forward with this?" asked Del. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's), whose district includes many immigrants.

Kuo told Ramirez that although he asked "an excellent question . . . I have to work with facts and deadlines."

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the Real ID law continues to pose challenges, largely because of its cost. "We're waiting for guidance from the new administration. In the meantime, we're continuing to move forward."



UPDATE (1/23/09):

What is AAMVA?

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization developing model programs in motor vehicle administration, law enforcement and highway safety. Founded in 1933, AAMVA represents the state and provincial officials in the United States and Canada who administer and enforce motor vehicle laws. AAMVA’s programs encourage uniformity and reciprocity among the states and provinces.

Post 9/11, AAMVA set out to deal with a large variety of security issues regarding driver license and ID security. This work was the foundation for the current REAL ID law, with AAMVA concerned about a lack of uniformity in issuing processes and the related security concerns raised in part by issuance to undocumented aliens. However, while REAL ID does not ban states from issuing DL/IDs to undocumented aliens, AAMVA was clear in supporting such a ban.

What is interesting to note is that AAMVA was not addressing access to DL/IDs by undocumented aliens from an immigration perspective, but based on concerns about the integrity of state systems when an individual’s identity and status could not be verified (increased fraud), and repercussions for highway safety and best practices throughout systems.

In 2003, AAMVA passed the following resolution:

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF MOTOR VEHICLE ADMINISTRATORS
(AAMVA)
BOARD OF DIRECTORS RESOLUTION 03-09
POSITION ON ISSUING DRIVER’S LICENSES TO UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS

WHEREAS, in order to strengthen the security of the photo driver’s license and the
issuance process associated with it, it will be necessary to tighten the standards for
proving one’s identity in order to obtain a license; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Directors approved a minimum list of Acceptable Verifiable
Identification Resources for verifying an applicant’s residence, identity and legal
presence; and the documents included are required to be original or certified copies from
the issuing agency,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that raising the bar of proof regarding the validity of
source documents for everyone strengthens uniformity and encourages reciprocity in
motor vehicle administration and enhances highway safety enforcement; and

BE IT RESOLVED FURTHER that it is the recommendation of the Board of Directors
of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators that jurisdictions not grant
a photo driver’s license or photo ID card to undocumented aliens.

Board of Directors Resolution No. 03-09 was passed at a meeting duly held on
September 4-5, 2003.
In 2004, AAMVA reasserted its finding with the following:

AAMVA DL/ID Security Framework

A Package of Decisions Based on Best Practices, Standards, Specifications and Recommendations to Enhance Driver’s License Administration and Identification Security (Feb. 2004).

7.2 Licensing Noncitizens

Requirement #11:All jurisdictions that accept an immigration document as a source document shall tie the end-of stay date to the expiration date of the driver’s license/identification card (see Appendix “15-7.2-03 End of Stay and DL/ID Expiration procedures”).

Recommendation #5:All jurisdictions should not grant a photo driver’s license/identification card to an undocumented immigrant see Appendix “16-7.2-03 AAMVA Board of Directors Resolution 03-09: Position on Issuing Driver’s Licenses to Undocumented Aliens”).

The number of noncitizens (both legal and illegal) applying for a DL/ID has steadily increased in recent years. A documented immigrant may have one of several status classifications, which may cause confusion when he/she applies for a DL/ID. Immigration status and an immigrant’s length-of-stay in the country have been identified as factors in national security. DL/ID issuance of immigrants must therefore be a consistent, accurate and secure process.

7.2.2 Undocumented Immigrants

In May 2003, AAMVA recommended that jurisdictions not grant a photo DL/ID to an undocumented immigrant. To strengthen the security of the photo DL/ID and the issuance process associated with it, it is necessary to increase the standards for an individual proving his/her identity to obtain a license. Increasing standards for all individuals strengthens uniformity, encourages reciprocity in motor vehicle administration and enhances highway safety enforcement (p. 23-24).