Judiciary Chairman Vows to Fight Against Licenses for Illegals

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner has renewed his fight to stop federal agencies from accepting as legal identification the driver’s licenses issued by states that give licenses to illegal aliens. In December, this and a few other provisions dealing with border security were stripped by the Senate from the law responding to the recommendations of the Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Fulfilling a vow to return to these issues, Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) introduced the REAL ID act two weeks ago. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) has scheduled a vote on the bill this week. HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terence P. Jeffrey spoke with Sensenbrenner last week about his proposal. What are the key provisions of your REAL ID act? SENSENBRENNER: There are four provisions. First, an applicant for a driver’s license or renewal must prove lawful presence in the United States, otherwise the driver’s license will be endorsed that they have not done so. The driver’s licenses would have to indicate lawful presence to be used for federal purposes, such as getting on an airplane. Second, the bill tightens the asylum laws so that terrorists, like the one who plotted the ’93 World Trade Center bombing and the man who shot up the entrance to the CIA headquarters, could not get into the country and roam around as an asylum applicant. Third, the bill completes the 3-and-half mile gap in the border fence south of San Diego that has been held up as a result of environmental lawsuits. And fourth, the bill changes the law that says that if an alien is not admissible into the United States because of affiliation with terrorist groups, that alien is deportable. The present law says if someone makes a mistake to let you in, we cannot kick you out in some circumstances. When these provisions were being discussed last year, some in the Senate said we should not interfere with the rights of states to deal with their driver’s licenses. Why does your proposal not contradict the 10th Amendment, which says that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government should be reserved to the states or the people? SENSENBRENNER: It does not do so because it does not tell the states who they can issue driver’s licenses to and who they can’t. What it does say is that when they issue a driver’s license, in order for that driver’s license to be used for federal ID purposes, the applicant must show lawful presence in the United States. This, in my opinion, is a very important provision if we are to avoid the pressure for a national ID card, which I oppose. So, states can go ahead and issue driver’s licenses to whomever they want to, including illegal aliens, but if they do that, that driver’s license will not be legally accepted by a federal agency? SENSENBRENNER: That is correct. Another criticism some in the Senate made was that this is an immigration issue that has nothing to do with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in responding to the terrorist threat to the United States. Is that true? SENSENBRENNER: That is not true. The Staff Report on Terrorist Travel outlined how the 9/11 terrorists gamed the immigration system in order to be able to freely go throughout the United States. All but one of the terrorists used their validly issued state driver’s licenses to get on the planes on 9/11. The reason they used driver’s licenses instead of their passports is that using the passports would have caused suspicion by the airline personnel. Using the driver’s licenses didn’t, and the result was a national tragedy. So, this is a very specific and surgical response to very specific recommendations by the commission? SENSENBRENNER: Both the commission and its staff said that the system had to be tightened up, and they specifically pointed out that Mohammed Atta had a six-month visa and a six-year driver’s license. As I understand it, part of your proposal will give greater discretion to immigration judges in determining the credibility of people seeking asylum. Why is that necessary? SENSENBRENNER: The 9th Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] in San Francisco rendered a decision that effectively prevents an immigration judge from determining the credibility of the applicant for asylum at the time of the hearing. And that means that even if the judge finds that the applicant is lying through his or her teeth, he still cannot deny the petition. Every jury in the country, in criminal as well as civil cases, base their verdicts on determinations on the credibility of the witness. If we can do it in civil and criminal trials effecting Americans, why can’t we do it in immigration hearings affecting aliens? The Washington Times reported that Majority Leader Tom DeLay has scheduled a vote this week on your bill. Do you feel the Republican leadership has lived up to the commitment it made to you in December to move forward with this in the new Congress? SENSENBRENNER: I give a lot of credit to Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader DeLay. Both of them recognize that this is an important issue involving national security, and because we could not get the Senate to recognize that fact, we are going to have to try again and again until we are able to pass this legislation to make America safer. Is it true that this bill, if the House passes it, will be attached to the supplemental spending bill that will have the $80 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan? SENSENBRENNER: That’s the first must-pass bill, and I believe it will. And there’s a risk that that might cause people in the Senate to try to debate this as you guys holding money for Iraq and Afghanistan hostage to your particular driver’s license/immigration concern? SENSENBRENNER: The Senate can say what it wants to. I hope they will recognize that over 90% of the American public does not want illegal aliens to have driver’s licenses, and recognize that the current immigration system has been exploited by those who wish to do us harm. Last week, about when you announced this bill, Sen. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, said if it were attached to that supplemental bill, that bill would become fair game for immigration provisions, including so-called “guest-worker” visas, which he promotes. Sen. John McCain also said if that were the case, it would open up a possible overall debate on immigration reform. Are you worried that your proposal, even if it gets through the House, could be held hostage to some sort of negotiation to try to get the President’s immigration reform/amnesty through Congress? SENSENBRENNER: I hope that the senators will realize that it is important to have the issues of border security and immigration separated. And by attempting to attach issues like Sen. Craig’s amnesty for agricultural workers provision, and Sen. McCain’s broader bill, to this will mean that the entire debate on immigration will end up being confused with the border security issues. Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told USA Today last week that the President’s budget would not include full funding for the increased Border Patrol, ICE agents and immigration detention beds that were actually enacted in the 9/11 bill. Are you worried that funding for those increases that are already enacted into law also could be held hostage in an effort to get some sort of amnesty or guest-worker-type program? SENSENBRENNER: I hope that wouldn’t be the case, because the Border Patrol agents, the increased detention beds, and the increased ICE agents for internal enforcement of the immigration law are important to protect the American public from people who come into our country illegally or those who overstay their visas. Without adequate enforcement of the immigration law, any reform, whether it is the President’s or anyone else’s, will be a piece of paper that doesn’t work. I saw the letter the President sent to you and the other conferees on December 6 in which he specifically mentioned the increased Border Patrol and the increased detentions beds as good elements of the law that he signed. Do you feel you had a commitment from the White House or from the President to move forward with those things when you backed that version of the bill? SENSENBRENNER: It was a good idea on December 6 when the President signed the letter. It is a good idea now. And it will be a good idea in the future. If we get these increases in the Border Patrol, the ICE agents, the detention beds, and your REAL ID act is signed into law, will we then have completed the job of securing the border, or are there other things you see out there that need to be done? SENSENBRENNER: I think there are a lot more things that need to be done, but this is an essential first step, and it is something that is long overdue. The United States has ignored the problem of illegal immigration for the last 40 years. In the past, illegal immigration has had an impact on our economy, but people overstaying their visas have not been the massive type of threat that al Qaeda poses to the United States and which the 9/11 hijackers were able to get away with. So, this has become a national and homeland security issue rather than an issue of deciding how we set up and how we enforce our immigration laws. We have got to deal with national and homeland security issues first, before getting to the broader and much more complicated issue of immigration reform. Mixing the border security issues with the immigration issues means that there is a good chance that neither will pass and the American public will be at much greater risk if that happens. At the end of your press conference last week, you were sharply critical of the Simpson-Mazzoli act, enacted back in the 1980s, which did in fact grant amnesty to illegal aliens in the United States. Can you see any circumstance in which you would allow to come through your committee legislation that would in fact grant amnesty to illegal aliens? SENSENBRENNER: I am opposed to amnesty for illegal aliens simply because granting them amnesty is wrong because it puts people who have broken the law ahead of the line of those who are patiently waiting for their numbers to come up to get a visa and to comply with the law. And sending that message around the world will only increase the flow of illegal aliens into our country. What we need to do to deal with this problem is to figure out how to enforce the immigration law within the United States so that it acts as a deterrent against employers hiring illegal aliens. In my state of Wisconsin, there are only two immigration agents statewide. That is no deterrent. If there were only two traffic cops statewide, nobody would follow the traffic laws and our highways would be red with blood. There would be such an outrage that the people of my state would make sure there were enough officers to enforce the traffic law. The same should apply to immigration. That’s why the provision in the intelligence bill that increased the number of ICE agents for internal enforcement of the immigration law is an essential element to any type of immigration reform that will work. You would like to see employers truly penalized for hiring illegal labor? SENSENBRENNER: If we do not penalize employers for hiring illegal labor the market will continue to work because hiring an illegal is cheaper than hiring a legal documented worker. In many cases, the illegals are paid in cash. There is no withholding for Social Security and income taxes. The minimum wages aren’t paid. And as a result hiring an illegal is much cheaper than hiring a legal worker. If you don’t get penalized for hiring an illegal, which is a single offense, then why not commit multiple offenses? And that’s why an amnesty without enforcement is going to result in a lot of the people who are eligible for amnesty not applying because they know they will lose their jobs if they do apply because they end up pricing themselves out of the market, and the employers who have been hiring them illegally will continue to hire those who have not applied and received the amnesty illegally. Would you consider a guest-worker program that allowed illegal aliens to stay in the country and become guest workers without ever going home and applying–would you consider that an amnesty? SENSENBRENNER: Yes.