A sweeping plan to restructure the U.S. intelligence community won overwhelming approval from Congress this week, giving President Bush and the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States a victory after months of haggling.
But the final legislation failed to include language creating federal standards for state driver’s licenses that would prevent illegal aliens from being licensed. The commission had recommended establishing a federal standard and House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) made certain that the House version of the bill created a standard that would have prevented illegal aliens from getting driver’s licenses in states that wanted their licenses to be accepted by federal agencies. On November 20, House Republicans had held up a vote on the final version of the bill that emerged from a House-Senate conference because it did not include Sensenbrenner’s provision.
As Congress was voting on the bill, HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor Robert B. Bluey asked members of the House and Senate whether they supported a federal standard prohibiting the issuances of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.
Should Congress prohibit states from issuing illegal aliens driver’s licenses?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R.-MAINE), CHAIRWOMAN, GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: States already have the ability. The question is whether Congress should preempt the states’ historic responsibility in deciding eligibility for driver’s licenses. Now, we took a step in this bill to say there should be minimum standards that states should have to meet, but there’s lots of concerns about going beyond that as far as preempting the states’ role. The other issue, which many people are concerned about, is the possibility of a national ID card. That’s troubling to many Americans. So there’s a lot of policy issues here, a lot of substantive issues, that will have to be explored.
But now Congressman Sensenbrenner has put forward a plan. Have you reviewed his proposal on the driver’s licenses?
COLLINS: No, I’ve been on the floor all day long.
But do you think you could support some of the language that he wanted in the intelligence bill?
COLLINS: I haven’t seen his proposal, so I don’t know.
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 states 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.
Do you think Congress should let states give illegal aliens driver’s licenses?
REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D.-N.Y.), CO-CHAIRWOMAN, 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.
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 is the vehicle we should use.
Do you think Congress should let states 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 sure that they’re secure.
Do you think it should be included in this bill?
FLAKE: I do.
Should Congress include in this bill a federal standard for the issuance of driver’s licenses?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D.-N.Y.): There is an immigration issue here that should be debated, but it shouldn’t be made part of this bill.
Well should Congress then let states give illegal aliens driver’s licenses?
SCHUMER: Well that’s–I’ve said what I’m going to say.
Do you think states should be allowed to set their own standards for the issuance of driver’s licenses or should Congress get involved?
REP. MIKE PENCE (R.-IND.): I’m a state’s rights guy, but given the fact that the 9/11 hijackers had 63 valid driver’s licenses between them, this is one of those cases where federal preemption can be defended in the interest of national security. If we have people who wish to do harm to our country who are gaming the system, finding those states that don’t have a requirement of legal presence, this is one of those issues that cries out for reform.