DENVER – When the 9/11 Commission issued its long awaited report on the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, one of the key recommendations to Congress that it contained dealt with state policies on the issuance of identity documents to foreigners.
“The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” the Commission wrote in July of 2004. “Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”
The report was a wake-up call for lawmakers, who acted quickly to adopt legislation that, among other things, set certain requirements for state ID cards that the federal government deemed acceptable for entering federal buildings and boarding commercial flights.
Around the same time, voters in California punished then-Governor Gray Davis at the ballot box for signing a bill allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, replacing him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger who took a harder line.
Now, more than ten years after the attacks and the commission recommendations that followed, a number of states including Washington, Connecticut, New Mexico and Illinois, have once again ignited public debate on the contentious topic by enacting state laws that allow illegal aliens to legally obtain driver’s licenses.
Supporters of the more permissive laws argue that illegal immigrants will drive regardless, and that legalizing undocumented drivers would both reduce the number of unregistered vehicles on the highways and encourage the newly licensed drivers to purchase auto insurance.
“There will be fewer people on the road without registration, insurance and a license,” Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy to Connecticut’s Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy said last week.
A Tuesday report in Fox News Latino by Marla Cichowski underscored the same kinds safety concerns that Lawlor cited in Connecticut as a motivational factor for Illinois lawmakers who approved a similar law in that state this week.
“In Lake County, north of Chicago, the population is 21 percent Latino and 28 percent of people stopped for traffic violations have no valid driver’s licenses,” Cichowski wrote.
Many critics, however, say the motives behind the push to expand illegal aliens’ access to state-issued identification documents have more to do with politics than traffic safety.
“Yes, there is a public safety problem with so many unlicensed illegal aliens on our roads. The solution is simple: Don’t let them into the country to begin with,” said former Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration. “But that kind of solution [strict enforcement] doesn’t fit the Democrat party agenda for increasing its membership or the Chamber of Commerce agenda for increasing the population of cheap workers.”
While Colorado has yet to join the list of states issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, an attempt was made during the last election cycle to submit the question to state voters as an initiative. The effort failed, however, when the group backing the campaign failed to gather enough signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.
As in Illinois and Connecticut, backers of the controversial idea in Colorado argue that loosening licensing laws would help address insurance, safety and even fiscal woes.
“It doesn’t make them legal. It doesn’t make them eligible to work here,” said The Denver Post in a May 27 editorial endorsing the proposal. “It does, however, enable them to buy auto insurance and would require they show they’ve paid Colorado taxes. What could be wrong with that?”
But some, like 9/11 Commission counsel Janice Kephart, have suggested that allowing illegal aliens to obtain state-issued identification documents could pose threats to general public more dire than unregistered cars and uninsured drivers.
“One of the key rules in terrorist travel is to get a government-issued ID,” Kephart said in September. “All four 9/11 pilots had Florida driver’s licenses, including, of course, the operational leader and first World Trade Center pilot, Mohamed Atta.”
“New Mexico, for example, is one of a handful of states that does not require proof of U.S. citizenship to obtain a driver’s license, so there is a tremendous amount of fake ID production in New Mexico,” Kephart added. “Counterfeiters even ship illegal aliens to New Mexico to acquire driver’s licenses.”