The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gov. Hogan opposed to ending ICE’s warrantless access to driver’s license database

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said he will not support pending legislation that would curtail ICE access to the photos and personal data of 7 million Maryland residents. (Steve Ruark/AP)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is opposed to cutting off warrantless access for immigration authorities to the photos and personal data of 7 million Maryland residents, including approximately 275,000 undocumented immigrants.

In his first response to a Washington Post report that federal authorities have run facial-recognition searches on millions of state residents without seeking state or court permission, the Republican governor said he will not support pending legislation that would curtail Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s access to the data.

“The governor opposes any legislation that would hinder cooperation with federal law enforcement or make Maryland a sanctuary state,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said in a statement.

Federal law enforcement’s broad access to driver’s license data has sparked concern among privacy groups and immigrant advocates, who say that Maryland has granted federal investigators far more leeway than other states and that ICE has targeted immigrants who were encouraged to apply for special licenses the state offers undocumented residents.

State lawmakers have pressed the Hogan administration for at least two years to explain the extent of facial-recognition access for immigration authorities, which appears to date back at least to a pilot agreement signed with the FBI in December 2011, when Democrat Martin O’Malley was governor.

Ricci did not answer questions Thursday about whether that agreement has been reviewed or updated over the past seven years, a period during which facial-recognition technology has rapidly changed.

The longevity of the cooperation stunned some immigrants rights advocates, who pushed Maryland in 2013 to become the first East Coast state to create licenses for people who could not provide proof of legal status. Federal authorities already had access to the photos, addresses and other personal data of Maryland drivers; that database eventually included information on 275,000 undocumented immigrants.

Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said Thursday that she was “distraught” to learn she had pushed a policy that ultimately identified undocumented immigrants and provided their home addresses to authorities.

“It breaks your heart,” she said, her voice shaking with emotion. “We didn’t know. . . . We would have gotten it right in the beginning if we knew.”

The Democrats who control both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly delved more deeply into the revelations Thursday, holding a pair of hearings on legislation that would require ICE to obtain a warrant before searching the database.

In written testimony, the Hogan administration warned that thwarting federal immigration enforcement could provoke retaliation from the Trump administration, which has threatened to punish states for “sanctuary policies” and earlier this month imposed restrictions in New York.

At one hearing, Rockville resident Maribel Cortez recounted how immigration authorities knocked on her door three weeks ago and said they were arresting her husband of 21 years, based on information gleaned from his driver’s license.

She and Jose Santos Quintero, who immigrated from El Salvador separately decades ago, have five children. They have never had other encounters with immigration or criminal law enforcement authorities, Cortez said.

“They came to the house,” she told state lawmakers through an interpreter. “They took him. The kids that were there, they didn’t give the kids any explanation. And it wasn’t until they finally were detaining him and taking him to the car that they were telling him they were arresting him because of a license.”

Cortez, 42, wiped away tears as she described how hard it has been for their children, ages 8, 10, 15, 18 and 20. “The kids are very distraught,” she said in an interview. “For their whole lives, they’ve had their father in their lives. And now it’s very difficult for them.”

She said Santos Quintero remains detained in a Howard County facility. The couple’s lawyers, she said, have not been provided any other explanation for his arrest.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said she found it “disturbing” that ICE had “unfettered access to run facial-recognition searches.” She pledged to “demand answers and carefully consider our options to protect the rights and safety of every Maryland resident.”

A top Maryland law enforcement official said ICE officials had logged nearly 100 sessions in the state’s driver’s license database since 2018. Each session could have included multiple searches of the Maryland Image Repository System database.

For years, ICE has tapped similar databases in other states while trying to match a photo to a person’s identity. But in those states, ICE agents had to ask a state official to run the search. Records show that any law enforcement officials with access to the National Crime Information Center, an electronic clearinghouse of crime data, can search Maryland’s DMV records without prior approval or notification.

“That’s terrifying to me,” Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) said during the hearing of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which he chairs.

“Regardless of your immigration status, someone could go in and search all of our data, our addresses and our information,” Smith said. “If you’re a sheriff in Arizona with NCIC access, you could search, just ’cause, just for funsies.”

At the same hearing, Sen. Justin D. Ready (R-Carroll) said he never supported creating licenses for undocumented immigrants and questioned what immigrants expected when they shared information with the government.

“We didn’t force them to give it up,” Ready said. “In my opinion, it’s kind of a trade-off.”

ICE has run facial recognition searches on millions of Maryland drivers

Trump administration suspends Global Entry program in New York

Undocumented woman from Virginia marks one year inside Maryland church

Local newsletters: Local headlines (8 a.m.) | Afternoon Buzz (4 p.m.)

Like PostLocal on Facebook | Follow @postlocal on Twitter | Latest local news