The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has extended the deadline for more than 260 commercial driver’s license holders — most of them immigrants — to prove U.S. citizenship or permanent residency before their driving privileges are canceled.
The agency realized in late July that it had erroneously granted the commercial licenses to a special category of immigrants who have permission from the Department of Homeland Security to work but do not have permanent legal status. The license holders received letters saying they had until Monday to comply with federal law.
But the truckers protested immediately, asking advocacy organizations and local elected officials for help in working out an alternative with the agency that would preserve their businesses and livelihoods.
Dozens of families in places such as Montgomery and Prince George’s counties depend on the income these drivers generate on the roads.
On Wednesday, the MVA announced that the license holders now have until Nov. 15 to respond. Meanwhile, spokesman Buel Young said the agency is working “through the complex regulatory issues” to determine whether it can legally replace the immigrants’ current licenses with nonresident commercial driver’s licenses that would be designed specifically for them.
The District and New York issue commercial licenses stamped “Non-Domiciled” to immigrants with federal work permits.
The affected Maryland license holders are largely from Central America and have“temporary protected status,” (TPS) officials say. Under this federal program, immigrants from countries such as El Salvador and Honduras become TPS-eligible if there is an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster or another extraordinary condition, such as violence. The immigrants undergo criminal background checks and receive employment authorization documents.
Maryland is one of several states where undocumented immigrants can obtain Class C state driver’s licenses. But the state’s 2013 law is silent on commercial licenses.
Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), who has been working with the agency to bring about a solution, said the deadline extension is a positive sign for the drivers.
“I am optimistic that the MVA will find a way to have the CDL drivers in compliance with federal law in the next three months,” Ramirez said. “I have hope we will figure it out.”
The license holders argue they have invested thousands of dollars on training and paperwork to secure their licenses. Some have purchased their own trucks.
Revocation of the commercial licenses would result in millions of dollars of lost economic activity, activists said. Canceled licenses could also have a serious impact in Montgomery, where more than 30 of the affected drivers are subcontractors for the county’s trash collection operation, said Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez (D-Montgomery).
“People cannot lose their jobs. Schools need their bus drivers,” Gutiérrez said. “Clearly, the [MVA] had no idea what the heck they were doing and disrupted the lives of many families. That needs to be corrected and an apology issued.”