It was June 16, 2000, and the Inman family was happily on its way to spend Father's Day weekend at a trailer they keep in the mountains of northern Georgia.
As a father, one of the first things I thought about when I read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week about what happened to the Inmans that day is that it could happen to my family, too, or to any family. As an American, I thought about the politicians who have undermined our immigration laws by allowing illegal aliens to get driver's licenses.
They should talk to Billy Inman.
The last thing Mr. Inman remembers about that day four years ago, he told me, is that he was sitting at a stoplight in his Pontiac Grand Am, one car back from an intersection in Ellijay, Ga. His wife, Kathy, was sitting beside him. His 16-year-old-son, Dustin, was sitting in back.
The next thing Mr. Inman knew he was in a hospital 70 miles away in Atlanta. After he emerged from a coma, he learned he and his family had been victims of a horrendous accident. His wife was seriously injured. His son was dead. An Oldsmobile Cutlass, moving at high speed, had slammed into the rear of the family's car as they sat at the intersection.
The driver, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, was an illegal alien from Mexico. He had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. According to Capt. Mike Gobble of the Gilmer County, Ga., Sheriff's Office, Gonzalez had a valid North Carolina driver's license. Bill Jones, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, confirmed this, noting Gonzalez had received his license July 10, 1998, using his birth certificate and an identification card issued by Mexico.
This February, North Carolina tightened its driver's license requirements. It no longer accepts Mexican birth certificates. The Matricula Consular card, which Mexico issues to its nationals in the U.S. whether they are here legally or illegally, can now only be used to prove "residency" in the state, not identity. Nonetheless, North Carolina remains one of 11 states that does not require driver's license applicants to prove they are legally in the United States.
Gonzalez was not immobilized by the June 16, 2000, collision. When he complained of stomach pains he was brought to a local hospital, and transferred from there to another hospital. Then he disappeared.
A Gilmer County grand jury later indicted him for vehicular homicide. Steve Lazarus, spokesman for the FBI in Atlanta, says the bureau wants him on an "unlawful flight" charge. The November 6 edition of "America's Most Wanted" broadcast a picture of Gonzalez and the basic circumstances of his alleged crime.
But even if Gonzalez is brought to justice, nothing can bring back Dustin Inman.
Mr. Inman supports the establishment of federal standards that would prevent illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses. If he were to speak to the members of Congress about this issue, he would ask them of the accident that killed his son: "What would they do if it happened to them? How would they feel then?"
"I'm more upset with our government than I am with Gonzalez, period," said Mr. Inman. "He just isn't much of a man. I can honestly see the accident happening. Somebody trying to work, take care of their family. But the government let him in. They knew . . . how many millions . . . is here illegally? But what are they doing about it?"
Fifteen months after an illegal alien, using a valid U.S. driver's license, plowed into the Inmans' car, 19 al Qaeda hijackers, with 63 U.S. driver's licenses among them, boarded 4 commercial jets, turned them into missiles, and murdered 3,000 people.
Almost three years later, in July, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States released its report on the incident. It recommended: "The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses."
Led by Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, the House did set federal standards for driver's licenses in its bill responding to the report. The Senate did not. The House would have made it impossible for states to issue licenses to illegal aliens. "[T]he Senate," said Sensenbrenner in a statement, "was hell-bent on ensuring that illegal aliens can receive driver's licenses, regardless of the security concerns."
President Bush pushed the House to accept the Senate's position.
Then he wrote a letter to congressional leaders saying, "I look forward to working with the Congress early in the next session to address these other issues, including improving our asylum laws and standards for issuing driver's licenses."
The Inmans and many other American families will be counting the days.