Thousands of immigrants apply for driver's licenses in Maryland

GLEN BURNIE, Md. (WJLA) - Thursday was an important step forward for thousands of immigrants seeking a pathway to citizenship in Maryland, as for the first time, they were allowed to apply for a driver's license.

Starting Jan. 1, Maryland and seven other states began allowing immigrants to apply for and get second-tier licenses; they're good for driving, but not as proper, federal identification.

The Baltimore Sun reports that upwards of 13,000 immigrants have already applied and can start taking driving tests as early as Thursday.

Maryland resident Missael Garcia says it's a dream come true. After emigrating from Mexico when he was 12, he walked into the Motor Vehicle Administration's Glen Burnie headquarters Thursday and walked out with a learner's permit.

For him and thousands of other undocumented immigrants, it's more than just permission to drive a car.

"It's a door that has been opened, and for other immigrants in the state, this is an opportunity," Garcia said.

Those seeking licenses have to apply for certification, prove they live in Maryland and that they've paid state taxes. If they have a valid license from their home country, they'll be given a Maryland license after passing a written test.

For many of these people, though, the license just scratches the surface of what immigrants can do.

"This is more than just a driver's license," Marisa Moschelle from the advocacy group Casa de Maryland said. "This can really change somebody's way of life, the job they are able to get, where they can go to school (and) if they can visit their family."

State lawmakers say they passed the new law to makes ure everyone driving in the state knows the rules of the road. Those applying for the privilege to drive say it’s a chance to come out of the shadows and feel a bit more free.

MVA officials say they expect more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants to apply for and accept licenses by the end of the year.