It’s amazing that at a time when the only identification required to get on an airplane is a driver’s license, Maine is willing to issue them to people who have not proven they are residents of this state or legal citizens of this country.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has helped draft a bill that is now before the Transportation Committee that would require people applying for a driver’s license to provide proof of residency. However, the changes legislators on the committee are considering do not go far enough, leaving loopholes in the law that allow people who are in the country illegally to obtain a license.

The Legislature’s consideration of the changes follows national criticism, from CNN’s Lou Dobbs and commentators on talk radio, of Dunlap and Gov. John Baldacci for a lack of regulations that has allowed Maine to gain a reputation as an easy state in which to obtain a driver’s license. The changes under consideration also follow a federal investigation into a scam that was bringing illegal aliens to Maine so they could get a driver’s license and then return to states like New York, where they could exchange their Maine licenses for New York licenses.

The changes would require people to provide a utility bill or rental agreement when applying for a driver’s license. These are basic requirements. It’s surprising the state doesn’t already have them. You can’t even get a library card without a utility bill.

However, even by Dunlap’s own admission, these changes would solve only 95 percent of the problem. The state requires a Social Security number or a letter of rejection from the Social Security office to get a license. Those who do not have a Social Security number are issued a place-holder Social Security number – 999-99-9999 – but the state does not follow up to check on those who have been issued such numbers. That leaves the state vulnerable to undocumented immigrants who want to obtain licenses.

It’s frightening to imagine people entering the country illegally and getting a driver’s license simply because they were able to obtain a rejection letter from the Social Security office. Dunlap has countered that licenses obtained in this fashion account for a small fraction of the licenses in the state – just 2,700. The small number, however, is not an excuse. It would, in fact, make it easier for the state to follow up on all of them.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union opposes closing both the loophole for illegal immigrants and the residency requirements because they could prevent the homeless or victims of domestic violence who don’t want to reveal their addresses from obtaining a driver’s license.

“Drivers licenses should be just that – a process to promote driving skills, and not a replacement for a citizenship and residency document,” said Shenna Bellows, the executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

The problem is, driver’s licenses are much more than a process to promote driving skills. They have become the most common form of identification people use to gain access to all sorts of things. Maine’s relaxed laws have given fuel to those calling for federally issued IDs. There must be a way to ensure the homeless and victims of domestic violence can obtain licenses without jeopardizing the safety of everyone else, and legislators need to find it.

Brendan Moran, editor

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: