License gridlock

November 18, 2005

MARYLAND residents are all too familiar with the frustration that can accompany a visit to the Motor Vehicle Administration. Long lines. Surly clerks. Interminable waits.

Most folks expect and accept it. But for immigrants seeking driver's licenses - even those here legally - the experience is compounded by cumbersome identification rules that not only test their patience but also threaten their livelihoods, forcing them to wait months for the licenses, and then often in vain. Thirteen immigrants struck back this week and filed suit against the MVA, charging it with creating illegal barriers for immigrants wanting licenses.

If the problems were that clear-cut, neither a judge nor a court would be needed to resolve them. But delay is inherent in a system requiring several pieces of proof of identity, age and state residency. For immigrants who aren't legal or permanent U.S. residents, this means MVA workers must spend more time validating the authenticity of documents issued by other countries. It's not an ideal situation but it's better than banning illegal immigrants from being issued licenses, a step other states have taken.

Still, the MVA ought to ensure it has the necessary staffing and technical capabilities to make the process work smoothly. A few weeks' wait for a license is understandable; a couple of months is unacceptable.

A clerk's intuition should not determine who is here legally, or which documents seem legitimate. A formal system with clearly defined methods for checking the legitimacy of identification documents should do this. The MVA would save more money and time by improving the licensing process than by fighting the immigrants' charges in court.

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