In San Diego, construction on a border fence that was halted when it encroached upon an endangered bird species’ habitat, will begin again, once more in the name of security.
Sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., HR 418 already passed the House and is currently being debated in the Senate. Proponents are up in arms, claiming that the bill is not only a security bill, but a piecemeal immigration bill as well.
"The Real ID Act addresses vulnerabilities that were highlighted by the 9/11 Commission Report," said Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee.
Eighteen of the Sept. 11 terrorists risked their lives to secure a validly obtained driver’s license and state ID card, said Lungren.
"Muhammad Atta was able to get a six-month visa here," he said. Atta ended up getting three driver’s licences from different states. While Atta’s visa expired after only six months, his licences were valid for up to six years.
Under HR 418, immigrants will be prevented from obtaining driver’s licenses, and any temporary driver’s licenses obtained would expire the moment their visa did, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said.
The legislation also imposes stronger standards for refugees in order to "prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States."
The asylum seekers would have to prove that persecution was the central cause of their appeal. Currently, refugees have only to establish that persecution is part of a host of problems forcing them to seek asylum. HR
418 would also require asylum seekers to corroborate their persecution with credible documents, according to the resolution itself.
The final measure of the law would "ensure expeditious construction of the San Diego border fence." In 1996, Congress ordered the creation of the fence in order to tighten border security. Due to environmental concerns, the California Coastal Commission halted completion of the wall, Lungren said.
The cost of security
"As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I strongly support the Real ID Act," said Smith. The goal of the bill, he said, is to prevent another terrorist attack by disrupting terrorist travel and closing loopholes that the Sept. 11 hijackers exploited to enter and stay in the United States.
This is not the first time Sensenbrenner has proposed such legislation. Last fall, HB 10 contained many similar provisions to ensure national security.
They were removed due to their controversial nature, said Colleen Kelly, co-director of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group devoted to preventing terrorism.
Even the chairman and the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission recommended that the provision be revised in a letter to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The current legislation is an effort to recast those same provisions after more debate and consideration, Lungren said.
"Driver’s licenses are the primary identification document used in the United States. They enable individuals to obtain other forms of identification, enter federal buildings, purchase firearms or board a plane," Smith said. Lax standards, he said, allow terrorists to obtain drivers’ licenses from some states and abuse them.
Groups that oppose HR 418, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Law Association and the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, claim it would infringe upon the liberties of a great deal of people.
"It’s not only going to be ineffective in terms of security, it’s bad law,"
said Judith Golub, a spokeswoman for American Immigration Law Association.
"It would restrict habeas corpus for many individuals."
In reference to stricter standards requiring refugees to provide proof of persecution, she said, "It changes the criteria from mixed motive to central reason. You have to go into the motivation of that person, which is impossible."
Speaking for September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Kelly said, "It’s already difficult enough for someone that’s fleeing their country; it’s hard to get documents and show particular threat."
"If a refugee testifies credibly, she could be denied asylum if she was unable to track documents that would corroborate her [claims]," said Cory Smith, legislative council for Human Rights First. As a result, HR 418 is ineffective, because it allows asylum seekers to be deported back to their country before a court has ruled on their case, he said. During that time, asylum seekers could face additional persecution, torture and death in some cases, Smith said.
"Quite frankly, if you are a terrorist, the best way to get here is not to spend 10 years in a refugee camp to get here," Golub said.
Maria Luisa Bautista, coordinator for Inmigrantes Latinos en Accion, said that the Real ID Act will only increase the trade in fake documents.
Undocumented immigrants will drive anyway; they have jobs to get to and paychecks to cash just like everyone else. After all, the United States depends on undocumented workers, she said.
"There are undocumented workers cleaning houses, working in kitchens, doing construction work – all the work that nobody wants to do," Bautista said.
Immigrants also benefit the state through their work and paying taxes as well, she said.
"When we go to the H-E-B, they don’t ask us if we’re documented," she said.
In reference to the use of the Real ID Act as an anti-terrorism measure, Bautista simply responded by saying that terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks did not enter the United States through Mexico.
"Immigrants don’t come to destroy buildings; they come to raise them," she said.