Wheaton Undocumented Immigrants May Soon Be Eligible for Driver’s Licenses

The new Maryland HIghway Safety Act could change daily routines for undocumented immigrants living in Wheaton and Silver Spring.


by Allison Goldstein, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS -- Silver Spring resident Andrea Gonzales is the only licensed driver in her family of three, so for her, a weekday morning means waking up at 5:30 to shuttle her husband to work with their 5-year-old daughter in tow.

The new Maryland Highway Safety Act may change her family’s routine by allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Gonzales’s husband, Jaime, an undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua, can’t legally drive to pick up their daughter, Ana, from school at 3 p.m. Instead, the couple hired a babysitter to transport and care for Ana on most afternoons.

“My husband, we are working on getting him legalized, but until then I still need him to help me with the responsibilities,” Gonzales said. “Our family needs him to be able to depend on himself, not to depend on me for everything.”

If Jaime had a driver’s license, Gonzales said, he could spend afternoons with his daughter, help her with homework, and get her ready for bed.

Set for a Wednesday hearing in Annapolis, the Maryland House bill and its companion bill in the Senate would repeal a provision of a 2009 law that prohibits people without Social Security numbers or lawful presence documents from renewing or obtaining driver’s licenses.

Licenses for undocumented drivers would carry a label, “Not for federal use,” preventing license holders from boarding planes or entering federal buildings.

The bill would also prevent all such licenses issued before 2009 from expiring in 2015 as state law now mandates.

Gonzalez, who testified at the Feb. 20 Senate hearing on the bill, plans to testify at Wednesday’s House hearing as well.

“Most surprising was all the support from the non-immigrant community,” Shola Ajayi, elections and advocacy specialist at Casa de Maryland, said of last month’s hearing.

He added that the bill would not only apply to illegal immigrants, but also to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who lack the documents necessary to obtain a license.

Members of Help Save Maryland, an anti-immigrant organization, also plan to testify at the House hearing.

“We will be coming out in force against this bill,” said Help Save Maryland director Brad Botwin, who contends that the legislation will make Maryland a magnet for illegal immigrants and put additional stress on Maryland’s social services.

In 2009, several states including Maryland put in place federal Real ID Act regulations requiring the Motor Vehicle Administration to verify the identity and legal status of all license applicants. The new Maryland legislation would repeal those MVA limitations.

Washington, New Mexico and Illinois are among the states that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Maryland Democratic Delegate Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County said policy in these other states helped inform her decision to push for the change.

For many people without proper documentation, driving without a license may be the only option, so it is practical to require those drivers to meet basic driving standards, said Ivey, lead bill sponsor.

“A lot of people simply are in a position where they can’t get around without a car. Not everybody has public transportation available. Legally they’re not supposed to drive, but we know that with the way their current situation is set up, it’s really hard to avoid,” she said.

Undocumented drivers seeking licenses will be required to meet the same MVA standards required of all drivers: a written test and an on-road driving skills test.

Botwin called Ivey “one of the worst delegates in Annapolis” whose bill was a “continued effort of her pandering to CASA of Maryland and the illegal immigrants in Prince George’s County.”

He has charged that road safety is compromised by the fact that Maryland’s written driving test can be taken in Spanish, yet street signs across the state are labeled in English.

But the Maryland Department of Transportation shares Ivey’s views that the enactment of the bill will have a positive impact on highway safety in part by ensuring that more vehicle operators can have on-file driving records.

“Licensing these individuals allows the Motor Vehicle Administration to track their driving histories and to address safety problems or concerns through administrative action taken against the driver’s license,” the Department of Transportation said in statement.

“People who think it’s some kind of danger to Maryland, I think that’s ridiculous,” Ivey said of the bill’s implications.

But Botwin argues that the danger lies in setting a precedent for the future.

“It empowers the illegal alien community to keep pushing for more and more,” he said.

Gonzales, though, said that reducing the chance of her family’s separation is a worthwhile cause.

“I think the biggest risk is my husband driving without a license. My fear is that something could happen to him. He could get arrested, and we don't want our family separated,” she said. “We have a 5 year old that we are raising together, and we want to continue to do that.”

Malcolm Wilson March 13, 2013 at 12:54 PM
ED March 13, 2013 at 02:18 PM
I'm surprised Casa would want a data base of undocumented immigrants that will eventually be shared with the rest of the Country (unless repealed by Congress).
Angel Alvarado March 13, 2013 at 02:26 PM
I think that undocumented immigrants should have papers and be able to speak/ read & understand the English language & traffic laws & rights before they get their licenses & have other privilages in the US. The immigrants who drive are used to driving in their own country, which is different than driving here. It seems that the immigrants are able to get more things w/o learning/understanding the English language too easily. Americans are forced to work harder than immigrants to get any kind of license/assistance. We are being forced to learn a 2nd language due to the vast majority of immigrants living here. It should be mandatory that any immigrant going to live in a new country learn the native language spoken their. They can't comprehend/speak English. Most can't even read in their own language. They hold jobs here w/o having to learn to read/write/speak the English language. They don't understand what americans say to them. Please don't get me wrong. It is great that they want to come here to live a better life. But where is there respect to our country? They need to understand the laws in English too. We make everything too easy for them by translating everything into other languages. How can people help another if they can't communicate with them because of the language. It should be mandatory that they learn the English Language before they are able to have any privilages. Is the gov't going to spend extra money to write all the signs in all the different languages?
AntonFisher March 13, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Unless it is a national mandate, then NO NO NO. I hate for Maryland to become the haven for all undocumented immigrants in the region and the nation. Casa de Maryland is destroying the state with their agenda.
Frank Plummer March 13, 2013 at 05:44 PM
....So is this reciprocal in their home contries? I want to apply for benefits and get a drivers liscense in their home countries as well. Oh yes I want their home country to learn my language so they can better communicate with me as I should not have to learn their language.


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