Md. lawmakers may limit ICE’s power, despite threat from Trump administration

Despite threats of retaliation from the Trump administration, Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would limit the ability of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to search through the state’s driver’s license database.

Committee hearings are scheduled Thursday in both the state House and Senate on the Democratic-backed bill that would require ICE agents to obtain a warrant in order to access the driver information.

The proposed bill comes as multiple media outlets reported ICE accessed the database dozens of times over the past two years, without approval from any court or state official, to run facial-recognition searches in efforts to match a photo to a person’s identity.

“We don’t feel that the state should be facilitating ICE’s access to the database just to go and pick up someone for deportation who otherwise has done nothing wrong,” Del. Dana Stein told WTOP. He added that Maryland is unique in providing “automatic and instantaneous access” to the driver’s license database.

The database includes photos, names and addresses of about 7 million Maryland drivers.

The report alarmed immigration activists in Maryland because the state allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.

Since 2013, more than 275,000 such licenses have been issued.

If Maryland moves forward with the legislation, the state faces potential backlash from the Trump administration, which recently targeted New York for enacting a similar law.

Earlier this month, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli cited the law and said tens of thousands of New York residents would be cut off from “trusted traveler” programs that speed their re-entry into the country.

“I know other states are looking at laws like this,” Cuccinelli said. “We would urge them to reconsider.”

New York’s “Green Light” law, which went into effect in December, allows people to get a driver’s license even if they don’t have legal residency in the United States. It includes a provision prohibiting the Department of Motor Vehicles from providing any data to entities that enforce immigration law unless a judge orders it to do so.

That makes it a target for Trump, who has made immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his presidency.

Stein mentioned that his proposed legislation isn’t as strict as the law in New York that triggered backlash from the Trump administration; however, he added some state leaders are worried about the same thing happening in Maryland.

“Because of the fact that DHS has taken this action against New York, there is some concern,” Stein said. “We can’t predict what the federal administration is going to do but we feel it’s important to protect our residents.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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