The measure, which also appears to have support in the House of Delegates, would expand statewide a small program set to expire.
Immigrants would have to show some form of identification, such as a birth certificate or passport. And to suggest long-term Maryland residency, senators added a requirement that applicants also provide two years of state income tax filings.
Analysts, however, said there appeared to be nothing in the proposal restricting applicants from filing such returns retroactively. Some 275,000 illegal immigrants live in Maryland, according to a recent study. Another 400,000 live in states that neighbor Maryland, including the District and Virginia.
Prince George’s County Sen. Victor Ramirez (D) authored the bill, saying the current program had proven successful at making the state’s roads safer.
Angela Alsobrooks, Prince George’s County state’s attorney, also has been a lead proponent in Annapolis. She said the law would help immigrants improve their lives and to obtain legal work in the county.
“Public transportation can be so complicated,” Alsobrooks said. “We don’t want to give immigrants any reason to turn to a life of crime.”
Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin (R-Cecil), however, blasted the proposal saying it would make Maryland a further haven for illegal immigrants.
“The fact of the matter is we are rewarding illegal behavior,” Pipkin said. “They are here illegally today. They are breaking the law by driving today — let’s reward them under the guise of making the roads safer, that’s great.”
Pipkin harped on the tax filing requirement as inadequate. He said the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration lacks the technical capability to review the returns and to prove in any way that they belong to the applicant.
Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) argued that the provisions were adequate and said illegal immigrants would have to be engaged in an “extraordinary elaborate and sophisticated fraud” to obtain one of the new licenses by falsifying tax records.
Within Maryland, the second-class licenses would afford illegal immigrants all the rights of a Maryland driver. They would be stamped across the top as not legal for federal uses, such as entering federal buildings.
The Senate rejected an amendment proposed by Pipkin to make them a different color from regular Maryland licenses, and to require that applicants be fingerprinted, as the Senate recently voted to require of gun buyers.
“It’s an interesting message we’re sending,” Pipkin said. “You’re a law-abiding citizen who wants a gun, and we take your fingerprint. You come here and have no legal presence whatsoever, but want to drive, and we don’t.”
The Senate did approve another Pipkin amendment making clear the licenses could not be used for purchase of a firearm.
Frosh said the bigger issue, however, was road safety.
“They are here anyway — 13 million — without documentation ... without licenses, without insurance ... and they are a hazard to us, and to everyone else on the road.
“We can reduce the problems they create by requiring they pass a written test, pass a road test.”
A final vote in the Senate is likely on Monday.