Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is against cutting off immigration authorities’ warrantless access to the photos and personal data of seven million Maryland residents, including roughly 275,000 undocumented immigrants, his spokesman said Thursday.
In his first public statement since The Washington Post reported that federal authorities have run facial-recognition searches on millions of state residents without seeking state or court permission, the Republican governor said he does not support pending legislation that would curtail Immigration and Custom 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 to The Washington Post.
The federal authority’s broad access to driver’s license data has sparked concern among privacy groups and immigrant rights advocates, who say 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 for 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation in December 2011.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, said Thursday she was “distraught” to learn that immigration officials already had access to driver’s license data when she helped push Maryland in 2013 to become the first state on the East Coast to create licenses for people who could not provide proof of legal status.
“It breaks your heart,” she said. “We didn’t know. . . . We would have gotten it right in the beginning if we knew.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, said she would “demand answers and carefully consider our options to protect the rights and safety of every Maryland resident.”
Among the legislature’s Republican minority, the reaction was different. Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll said he never supported creating licenses for undocumented immigrants, and he questioned what immigrants expected when they gave all of their information to a government entity.
“We didn’t force them to give it up,” Ready said. “In my opinion, it’s kind of a trade-off.”