Maryland lawmakers want to limit ICE access to the state's drivers license database

A state lawmaker tells FOX 5, ICE has been using facial recognition software, searching a state database that thousands willingly submitted information to. 

A possible Trump Administration backlash is part of the discussion as lawmakers now weigh a new bill that would limit Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from accessing the Maryland driver’s license database.

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“It’s very disappointing because we provided this tier 2 license for folks such as undocumented immigrants with the idea that we wanted to encourage them to get these drivers licenses. Now the fact that ICE can access the database that contains them — it’s just very disheartening that these licenses can be used against them,” said Maryland Delegate Dana Stein.

Stein introduced a bill that would require ICE agents to obtain a warrant before they can access the database. A companion bill was also introduced in the Maryland Senate.

Some seven years ago, Maryland changed state law so that those here unlawfully could get a driver's license and under Maryland law. Public safety on the roads was a major reason for this, immigrant activists tell FOX 5.

Those activists with the group CASA of Maryland, went to Annapolis on Thursday to testify

Cathryn Paul, a CASA Research & Policy Analyst, called the revelations “heartbreaking.” FOX 5 was told relatives of those detained planned to speak.

Sharing one woman’s story, Paul said, “when they asked why he said the ICE officer specifically said that they got it from the MVA database. We've been hearing consequences stories of parents and families being separated. And it's very very hard for us to, to hear these stories, and to know that the 2013 legislation that was passed for them to get their driver's license is now going against them.”

FOX 5 learned more than 275,000 of this 2-tier federally non-compliant licenses were issued in the state since the program was enacted.

On Thursday, two Maryland Department of Transportation leaders submitted a letter to the chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee. A letter was also sent to the Senate. In that letter, the M-DOT Director of Government Affairs and the MVA Administrator confirmed they are not taking a side on the bill, but also expressed concern over a potential backlash from the administration. The letter cites how the Department of Homeland Security halted New York’s Trusted Traveler’s Program, among other actions, in response to a law that prohibited federal agents from accessing NY’s DMV records.

“DHS’s posture toward states that are implementing laws to limit their access to records is uncertain and this landscape and potential implications should be considered in the deliberation of this legislation,” the letter said.

“The New York law was broader it appealed to customs and border protection as well as it was stricter with respect to ice so we think we got a good case to say that what we’re doing in Maryland is very focused and it should not prompt the same action from the federal government,” said Del. Stein.

Paul told FOX 5 a Georgetown Privacy Center expert was also supposed to testify in Annapolis on issues with facial recognition software, when it comes to correctly identifying people of color.

A spokesperson with the Maryland Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services said in a statement, “Under the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Justice, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services gives law enforcement officials access to MIRS for official DOJ law enforcement and national security purposes.”

ICE sent part of the following statement to FOX 5: 

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on proposed legislation. However, ICE has concerns about any state or local laws that limit the sharing and exchanging of critical information, or that protect criminals at the expense of the safety and security of law-abiding residents."

MIRS stands for the Maryland Image Repository system.