for airport security checks or border crossings under legislation
being debated this week in Congress.
Under a broader measure known as
the Real ID Act, federal agencies would be prohibited from accepting driver’s
licenses from Washington and nine other states that issue such licenses to
The act’s sponsor, House Judiciary Committee
Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said it is meant to disrupt terrorist
travel. The provisions were part of the intelligence legislation introduced
last year but were removed from the bill Congress adopted.
the measure would make it tougher for some immigrants fleeing persecution to
obtain asylum in the United States and would speed up construction of the
border-security fence separating Mexico and the United States near San
It also would leave Washington and the other nine states with a
choice: stop issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants or have
federal agencies reject everyone’s licenses for ID.
bill, with 150 co-sponsors – only one of them a Democrat – is scheduled for
debate on the floor of the U.S. House of
"It’s a bad bill, and I hope it doesn’t
pass. It could have a huge consequence here in the state of Washington," said
state Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle. She said denying driver’s
licenses to illegal immigrants would "have an impact on our economy,
particularly in Eastern Washington where you have many people working the
farms and driving trucks."
Washington, Oregon and Montana are among
the 10 states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Washington licensing officials say it makes practical sense, so that illegal
immigrants can purchase automobile insurance protecting themselves and other
Still, bills intended to change the law repeatedly have been
introduced in the state Legislature – without passing.
In a prepared
statement, Sensenbrenner said his idea is not to set policy for states. But
"American citizens have the right to know who is in their country, that
people are who they say they are, and that the name on the driver’s license
is the real holder’s name, not some alias," he said.
His office referred
to states like Washington as "weak links in the nation’s security
The congressman pointed out that the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers
chose "driver’s licenses and state IDs as a form of identification because
these documents allowed them to blend in and not raise suspicion or
But U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, said the bill would not
have stopped the hijackers. "It gets away from the real issue of security,"
he said. "Security is not about immigrant driver’s licenses. It’s about
all the containers coming into our ports that are never checked. This is a
law of unintended effects."
Immigrant-advocacy groups have condemned
the provisions in Sensenbrenner’s bill as mean-spirited and
The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, made up
of family members of those killed in the attacks, said the bill would
"undermine, not enhance, national security by pushing people deeper into the
shadows and forcing many more to drive without a license in order to earn
But others see value in it.
While not commenting
specifically on the bill, Jason King, spokesman for the American Association
of Motor Vehicle Administrators, whose members are state motor-vehicle
departments nationwide, said, "We need more consistent practices from state
to state in how we issue driver’s licenses."
State Rep. Doug Ericksen,
R-Bellingham, has sponsored a bill in the Washington Legislature that would
require proof of U.S. citizenship before a driver’s license could be issued.
If the federal measure passes, he’s prepared to introduce new legislation
that would bring the state into compliance.
"I think it’s a good
idea," Ericksen said of Sensenbrenner’s bill. But "here in Olympia, that
would be dead on arrival," he said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of
the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter enforcement of
immigration laws, said it’s possible states could create a two-tier licensing
system, granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses not intended for ID
"What needs to happen is increased enforcement of the
conventional type, denying illegal aliens access to normal institutions of
our society – bank accounts, car loans," he said. "Giving them driver’s
licenses of any kind represents a kind of de facto amnesty."