No Driver's Licenses for Illegals: Will Congress Back 9/11 Commission's Recommendation?

As the House and Senate moved closer to a vote Tuesday on legislation restructuring the U.S. intelligence community, a key immigration provision that would effectively bar illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses is missing from the bill.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) has insisted that the bill carry out the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation on setting national standards for driver’s licenses. House Republicans balked at passing the bill November 20 because the provision was missing from the legislation. But when House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Monday over language on the military, GOP leadership vowed to push ahead without addressing Sensenbrenner’s concern.

As Congress prepared to vote Tuesday, HUMAN EVENTS asked members of the House whether they supported a federal standard prohibiting the issuances of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.


On the question of driver’s licenses, do you think Congress should let states give illegal aliens driver’s licenses?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D.-CALIF.), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let’s understand where we are in this bill. This bill provides for federal minimum standards for driver’s licenses. Nobody believes that people should have fraudulent documents. The states have traditionally implemented a system through their departments of motor vehicles to fashion what the licenses are like. So we’re saying to states, use these minimum standards and then do what you think is right. My state does not issue driver’s licenses to undocumented people. That’s a decision that many states are making. That debate should take place at the state level and should be implemented by the states.

Do you agree with California’s provision [barring illegal aliens from obtaining driver’s licenses]?

HARMAN: I agree with California’s right to make that decision. That’s what I support. I’m not in state government and I’m not the governor, but I agree with the right of every state to make that decision.


Should Congress let state give illegal aliens driver’s licenses?

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R.-CONN.), CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CAUCUS: No, absolutely not. And, first off, it’s not an issue of giving them to illegal aliens, the issue is whether they give them a license when they’re legal and then put a termination date on it. I think there should be a termination date. Clearly, I do. But if you’re asking me, We didn’t get what I think should be in the bill, do I want to kill the immigration [reforms] that we did get, and most importantly the intelligence reforms? No, I don’t want to see us lose that. It’s kind of like when you invest in stock and the stock goes up and you cash in. You get what you got.

But the 9/11 Commission did recommend a federal standard.

SHAYS: I think there should be a federal standard. But you’re arguing for something that I can agree with. Why don’t we just take a bill out just on that one issue and let every member have to vote up or down on that, just on that one issue? And then have a debate about that. Let’s hear the arguments against it. But to kill the whole bill because you didn’t get that in it is a mistake. This is called, in our society, a compromise. There are things in it that I wish weren’t. There are things that aren’t in it that I wish were. But I really like the bill and I think it moves us forward significantly. I think it will help intelligence detect and prevent terrorist attacks.

What do you think the likelihood of a separate driver’s license bill passing Congress would be?

SHAYS: I think it could be very strong, frankly, if you isolated the vote and you really put the focus on just that debate and not let anyone hide behind some other argument. I don’t think someone who is here illegally should be given what is almost like a national identity card, a license.


I want to ask you about driver’s licenses, and whether or not you think Congress should let states give illegal aliens driver’s licenses?

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D.-N.Y.), CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CAUCUS: The issue before us, which I’d like to focus on, is that the 9/11 Commission members support the current bill. It calls for minimum standards for driver’s licenses and lets states decide the rest of it. That’s the position I’m supporting.

But I thought the 9/11 Commission wanted a federal standard?

MALONEY: They called for minimum federal standards. The bill has that.


I want to ask you about the intelligence bill and the back and forth over the driver’s licenses. At this point, should Congress give states the opportunity to issue illegal aliens driver’s licenses?

REP. DAN BURTON (R.-IND.): Right now I think 11 states already do that, and I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. We’re in a war against terrorism and that war against terrorism has been thwarted in the past because terrorists have gotten identification here in the U.S. that allowed them to get on planes. The 19 terrorists who flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed the plane in Pennsylvania had 63 driver’s licenses. Now, if we allow people to come across the border and get driver’s licenses that give them the identification and the wherewithal to get on planes and to get into areas where they can destroy human life, then we’ve got a big problem. There ought to be some way to police that and I think this bill the vehicle we should use.

The 9/11 Commission did recommend a federal standard for driver’s licenses. Why do you think some senators are unwilling to go along with that?

BURTON: The bill itself has an awful lot of good things in it. Centralization of intelligence is very important. [Rep.] Duncan Hunter has a very good point to make when he says the battlefield commanders have to be able to have access to information very quickly. You can’t run it through some bureaucrat because when some guy’s in the front line fighting for freedom and for his own life, he’s got to have the information as quickly as possible. And the second thing is these driver’s licenses. They’re an identification mechanism that terrorists can use to kill people. I was the chairman of the committee that wrote most of the homeland security bill, and we wanted to put that kind of thing in there before, and we didn’t get it in. Now’s the time.


Do you think Congress should let states, individually, issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens?

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R.-ARIZ.): No, I don’t.

Eleven states currently do.

FLAKE: I realize that. If states want to issue them for the purpose of driving, that’s fine. That’s their prerogative. That’s the federalist system. But if those licenses are being used as a form of federal ID, then no. And currently they are. I have legislation, which simply says, if a state wants its driver’s licenses to be used as a form of federal ID, then they can’t issue them to illegal aliens and there’s certain other conditions and standardized procedures they have to follow. If it’s just for the purpose of driving, that’s their prerogative. But if it’s for security, it’s a federal prerogative.

The 9/11 Commission did recommend a federal standard. Why do you think some senators are reluctant to go along with it?

FLAKE: It’s beyond me. Like I said, some may be looking at simply the driving thing. If you want to separate driver’s licenses from ID, states can do that. But as long as they’re one in the same, the federal government has an obligation to make that they’re secure.

Do you think it should be included in this bill?

FLAKE: I do.