May 14, 2003
The hottest controversy in state legislatures today regards
allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses. Americans were
shocked to discover that most of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 carried
driver's licenses from Virginia, Florida or New Jersey.
A driver's license is the pass to board a plane as well as the
license to drive car. It confers a sort of quasi-citizenship and, as
described by one illegal alien in Texas, "The driver's license ends up
becoming our pass to be in this country."
Since 9/11, 21 states have enacted new legislation to make it
harder to get driver's licenses, and legislation has been introduced in
another 22 states. Even in Idaho, State Senator Cecil Ingram told a
public hearing, "This has turned out to be a bigger problem than I
The states embarrassed by the 9/11 hijackers have gotten the
message. Virginia passed a bill to stop issuing driver's licenses to
illegal aliens, and Florida and New Jersey passed legislation to
coordinate driver's licenses with immigration visas.
New Jersey, where driver's licenses have been made of paper and do
not require a photo, has long been the target of document fraud and
counterfeiters. The state is now converting to state-of-the-art
digitized driver's licenses with a dozen covert and overt security
features, including a mandatory photo, bar code, hologram, and digital
Peter Gadiel, whose 23-year-old son James died in the World Trade
Center attack, has traveled from Connecticut to Virginia, Maryland,
North Carolina and Tennessee to support beefed-up identification laws.
Twenty states do not require applicants to prove they are legally in
the United States.
Tennessee, another state known to be casual about issuing driver's
licenses to illegal aliens, is considering a measure that would require
driver's license applicants to present a document showing they are
legally in this country. A Tennessee legislative committee also heard
testimony about the need to tighten driver's license rules from April
Gallop, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
Minnesota is trying to address the controversy through rulemaking
by the Department of Public Safety. The proposed rule would require
visitors to present documents to prove they are in the country legally,
and the license would expire when their visas expire.
Georgia would seem an unlikely state for immigration
controversies, but an estimated 435,000 Hispanics live in Georgia, a
300 percent increase over 1990, according to the U.S. Census. A lively
big group showed up at a hearing in Gainesville from the town of Hall,
where at least 19 percent of the population is Hispanic and 85 percent
of those are not citizens.
Georgia has been wrangling over a bill that would allow driver's
licenses to be obtained by illegal aliens who come only from the "Free
Trade Area of the Americas," i.e., from Canada, Latin America, and some
Among those who spoke against the proposed legislation was retired
Col. A.R. "Mac" MacCahan (whose Army unit lost 206 of 212 men fighting
in the Korean War). He asked, "What part of illegal don't you
understand?" Others ask, why reward people who have committed at least
three felonies: illegal entry into the U.S., purchasing fraudulent
documents to get a job, and misrepresenting the legality of those
documents at the workplace?
Kentucky was once one of the easiest states for illegal aliens to
get a driver's license. That changed after a 1998 incident in which
the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested a vanload of
illegals from Russia who had traveled from New York to Louisville to
get driver's licenses.
After that, Kentucky reinstituted a policy of requiring that
noncitizens applying for licenses take a written test. County Circuit
Clerk Tony Miller said, "We try to be helpful. We offer that test in
21 languages," but Miller didn't explain how it promotes safety to
license drivers who can't read the road signs.
Arizona and Mississippi have killed bills to make it easier for
illegal aliens to get a driver's license. California Governor Gray
Davis has twice vetoed a bill to allow illegal aliens to obtain
driver's licenses, but the legislature is still debating this issue.
INS public affairs officer Garrison Courtney identified one of the
biggest problems: "If they were illegal when they came here, it's very
difficult to determine who they really are because they've created
illegal IDs for themselves." The Seattle Times reported that one U.S.
Department of Justice raid discovered piles of cash totaling $95,262
plus $10,000 worth of computer equipment and specialty papers that had
been used to print 800 fake driver's licenses, green cards, work
permits, Mexican birth certificates, and Social Security cards.
Many are concerned about the danger from issuing licenses to
terrorists who might use trucks loaded with gasoline or other hazardous
materials in the same way that hijackers used commercial airliners on
9/11. The U.S. Transportation Department reported last year that we
lack sufficient safeguards, particularly from the many states that do
not require applicants to prove they are legally in the country.
Phyllis Schlafly is the author of "Feminist Fantasies" (Spence
Pub. Co., 2003)