Illegal Aliens Need Not Apply
~Maryland state driver's license requirements for alien
By Edward Neufville
As the United States tightens its immigration laws, the issue
of granting certain aliens the right to obtain driver’s licenses has
become a contentious issue. Immigration advocates in the state of Maryland
argue that aliens applying for Maryland driver’s licenses should only
be required to show proof of identity and verification of Maryland residence.
However, there is inconsistency between what is being required at the Maryland
motor vehicle administration and what the motor vehicle laws of Maryland actually
On September 12, 2003, in response to a request by Maryland
State House delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran,
Jr., clarified the Maryland State Motor Vehicle Administration’s requirements
as applied to individuals who present foreign identification as part of an
application for a Maryland driver’s license. Delegate Gutierrez’s
request brought to the forefront the issue of whether alien applicants must
show documentation that they are lawfully present in the United States as a
condition for license issuance.
An alien is defined as any person who is not a citizen or
national of the United States. This includes legal and illegal non-immigrants.
An alien is considered illegal when she enters the United States without being
admitted or paroled or violates his or her visa by remaining past the authorized
period. If the alien remains in the United States after the expiration of the
authorized period of stay or is present in the United without being admitted
or paroled, he or she accrues unlawful presence in the United States. The accrual
of unlawful presence can render the alien inadmissible to the United States.
In his opinion, Attorney General Curran stated that an alien
applicant should not be denied a Maryland license because of failure to prove
lawful presence in the United States. The Maryland residency requirement requires
only an in-state address in an application for a driver’s license and
does not require that a person be a resident of Maryland to be licensed if
he or she is not licensed elsewhere. While Maryland’s motor vehicle laws
provide alternative tests to determine “residence” in order to
be granted a driver’s license, an alien’s ability to prove lawful
presence in the United States is not one of the requirements. The Maryland
residency definition does not include or make reference to the alien’s
status under federal immigration laws.
The Attorney General’s opinion recognizes that the
overall objective of the motor vehicle laws is not to determine the immigration
status of applicants. Rather, their purpose is to control motor vehicle traffic
on the streets and highways and to promote public safety by ensuring driver
Although the Attorney General’s opinion seems to convey
the notion that alien driver’s license applicants should not be subjected
to tests requiring proof of lawful presence, the motor vehicle administration’s
requirements indirectly require alien applicants to show lawful presence by
producing valid immigration documents. The motor vehicle administration requires
that alien applicants disclose a Social Security Number, submit a birth certificate
or other proof of age and identity that is satisfactory to the administration.
The alien applicant is also required to submit at least one primary source
of identification, which includes documents such as a valid foreign passport,
a certificate of naturalization, a temporary resident card, an employment authorization
card or document or a refugee’s arrival and departure card. In the alternative,
the alien can provide one primary and two secondary sources of identification.
Some of the acceptable secondary forms of identification include a selective
service card, handgun permit with a photograph or fingerprint, voter registration
card, utility or telephone bill in the applicant’s name or a marriage
certificate or divorce decree.
The Maryland state motor vehicle administration’s requirement
of proof of immigration status is in excess of what the law requires. The Attorney
General’s interpretation of the law clearly states that an alien should
not be denied based solely on the fact that she is unable to prove lawful presence
in the United States. The intent and purpose of Maryland’s motor vehicle
law is to promote public safety and ensure driver competency. The requirement
of immigration documents indirectly requires alien applicants to prove lawful
presence in the United States as a prerequisite for license issuance. This
is beyond what is required under the law. Therefore, the motor vehicle administration
should end the practice of requiring alien applicants to show proof of valid
immigration documents in order to obtain a driver’s license.
Edward Neufville practices U.S. immigration and nationality law in Baltimore,
Maryland. He is the founder the law firm of MoraisNeufville.