Transportation Secretary nominee John D. Porcari told a legislative panel yesterday that the state needs to move forward with efforts to comply with the federal Real ID Act, a law that essentially prohibits states from giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
"We need to get moving now on the requirements, at least as we now know them to be," Porcari said.
The Real ID Act creates national standards for the issuance of state driver's licenses and ID cards, including a requirement that states verify documentary evidence that an applicant is a U.S. citizen or has some other legal standing, such as a visa. Without the new identification, people would be barred from airplanes and federal buildings without some other form of federally issued identification, such as a passport.
Under the 2005 law, states have until May 2008 to comply. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue regulations implementing the law this summer.
But states have objected to the cost - pegged at $11 billion nationwide by a survey of state motor vehicle agencies - and immigrant advocates have protested that the measure punishes people seeking a better life.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee where Porcari testified, said state lawmakers might demand repeal of the Real ID Act, as Maine legislators have.
Maryland lawmakers have defeated bills that would prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses over the past four years. Sen. Janet Greenip, an Anne Arundel County Republican, has introduced such a bill this year.
Vallario said, "No way, Jose, at the present time" to legislation that would enable the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to follow the federal law's requirements on legal residency. He called the federal law "one of the biggest unfunded mandates that's ever existed."
Porcari emphasized that the federal law came out of a recommendation by the federal Sept. 11 commission. John T. Kuo, the MVA administrator who also testified, noted that a 9/11 hijacker who was on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon obtained a Maryland driver's license at the Beltsville office.
If a state doesn't comply, licenses must clearly state that they cannot be accepted for federal identification purposes, under the federal law. Porcari raised the possibility of a two-tiered system in Maryland under which two kinds of licenses are issued.
Kuo said he is concerned that if Maryland remains one of the only states that issues licenses to undocumented workers, people will flock to the state and clog the system.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, said a federal standard "makes logical sense. ... Sometimes we have to put the politics of national security above local politics of how we deal with illegal immigrants or undocumented workers."