By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
May 05, 2005
Under a compromise between House and Senate negotiators, states would be limited to providing special permits that identify the holder as an illegal alien. Anyone possessing the license would not be permitted to proffer it as identification to board an airplane or enter a federal building.
Proponents assert the change is necessary to further bolster U.S. security while addressing what they view as a growing crisis in illegal immigration.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the House Judiciary Committee chairman and the measure's prime sponsor, said it will, if passed, protect U.S. citizens from terrorists, drug smugglers, alien gangs and violent criminals.
"This legislation is aimed at preventing another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel and bolstering our border security," he said. "Giving driver's licenses that can be used as identification to anyone, regardless of whether they are here legally or whether we know who they really are, is an open invitation for terrorists and criminals to exploit."
But Angela Kelley - deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based, pro-immigrant advocacy organization - said the bill is "misguided, ineffective and distracts the immigration debate from what we really need to be doing, which is fixing the broken system comprehensively."
"The American people want solutions that secure our borders, screen immigrants intelligently and shrink the haystack of those hiding in shadows," she said. The legislation, known as the Real ID Act, "fails on all these accounts and is a distraction from real reform."
Ten states currently issue driver's licenses without requiring proof of citizenship. Under the compromise, states could continue to do so, but they would be required to differentiate the permit issued to those without documentation from regular licenses through a different color or design.
The bill also requires all states to ensure that people applying for the regular state driver's licenses have proofs of identity, such as a birth certificate and verification of their Social Security number.
Lawmakers have been signaling their intent for some time to crack down on illegal immigration, saying the flow of undocumented aliens threatens American security, deprives residents of jobs and places a strain on the nation's social infrastructure.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank, estimates the population of illegal aliens reached 10 million as of November 2004. The Census Bureau maintains that this population increases by as many as 500,000 every year, mostly from Mexico.
Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, said during a Wednesday hearing that "our nation's immigration policy has not operated in the best interests of American workers, at least over the last few years."
"Native-born Americans have not seen any increase in employment in recent years," Hostettler said. "In fact, the number of jobs they hold has decreased. At the same time, the number of employed immigrants has risen substantially."
Despite the potential deleterious impact on American jobs, President Bush continues to push for the creation of a guest worker program that would permit undocumented immigrants to hold a job and even apply for American citizenship.
The president told the 2005 Latino Small Business Economic Conference meeting in Washington on Wednesday that the United States must have "a rational policy when it comes to immigrants coming to this country."
"I believe if somebody is willing to employ somebody and they can't find an American worker, and somebody is willing to do the job, we ought to make that connection a legal connection," Bush said. "People come here to work."
The move, he said, would make U.S. borders more secure "as opposed to people having to get in the back of 18-wheelers and sneaking across, you know, Texas borders, or trying to walk across the desert to find work."
Bush did not express his support for the Real ID Act during his conference appearance. Republican leaders have expressed no enthusiasm for pursuing the president's immigration proposal.