Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants an issue in three states

In Colorado, Oregon, and California, the granting of driver's licenses to illegal aliens has generated controversy and raised national security concerns that have gone largely unreported.

Colorado: Over two months ago, an ID company, MorphoTrust, erroneously issued 524 standard Colorado driver's licenses to illegal aliens. Under federal law, driver's licenses issued to illegal aliens are required to have a marking that indicates they are not to be used for federal purposes, but these did not. MorphoTrust — which produces IDs for 42 states — has been trying to get the licenses back by offering $100 gift cards to those who return them. I was able to confirm through a Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) official that 189 licenses had remained unaccounted for, but the latest update is that 43 licenses are outstanding.

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The federal REAL ID Act — which put a number of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission into effect — standardizes state driver's licenses and seeks to prevent illegal aliens from boarding airplanes, entering government buildings or accessing nuclear power plants. But illegal immigration advocates have pushed some states to offer special driver's licenses just for illegal aliens that are not REAL ID compliant. The movement is part of the effort to blur the distinction between law-abiding residents and foreigners who believe they are above the law.

The Colorado DMV tells me that they have gone door to door as part of the retrieval effort, which is commendable, but the question of what happens if all cards cannot be located looms large. Some have argued the error might allow the recipients to register to vote and/or get additional licenses in other states. If people wishing to do harm to Americans have any of these licenses, they are not going to give them up willingly.

Oregon: After Oregon legislators moved forward with a plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens, a group opposed to the proposal gathered enough signatures to put the issue up to a public vote. Polling suggests that nearly two-thirds of Oregon voters oppose the plan. This, despite the fact that supporters have spent over 11 times as much money as opponents.

A big controversy erupted when the fact-checking group PolitiFact decided to look into claims made by radio host Lars Larson that the proposed licenses would allow illegal aliens to board airplanes. PolitiFact determined that Larson is correct after speaking with a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official. The problem is that language on the ballot actually states that Measure 88 would not allow illegal aliens to board planes. This language was written by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has not posted an explanation or apology on its website (and it remains unclear whether the error was by accident or by design).

The TSA official has not explained exactly why the licenses would allow illegal aliens to board planes, but a couple of factors are likely at play. First, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly given compliance deadline extensions to at least 21 states and territories, extensions that were supposed to have expired on Oct. 10, 2014. But states can reapply for the extensions (Massachusetts, Kentucky and Montana recently received extensions). Oregon also had an extension, but it is unclear whether the state has received yet another one. Second, DHS has dragged its feet on enforcing the REAL ID Act and under their current plans, noncompliant IDs will prevent people from boarding airplanes "no sooner than 2016."

The REAL ID Act law was enacted in 2005 and supposed to take effect in 2008.

It should also be noted that the proposed measure would instruct the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division to accept foreign consular IDs as proof of an illegal alien's identity. These consular IDs are completely unverifiable by U.S. officials and have been considered a national security threat by the FBI.

California: One open-border group helped create driver's licenses so dangerous to national security that DHS stopped their design from going forward. The REAL ID Act allows states some freedom in how they differentiate between a regular driver's license and ones reserved for illegal immigrants that are not valid for federal purposes. Advocates of illegal immigration have been demanding that states make the licenses given to illegal aliens look almost identical to the licenses given to legal residents, even though it makes a security officer's job more difficult.

California's plan was to make the driver's license for illegal aliens look identical, save for one tiny difference: the small, 6-point-font text on the card that reads "DL" (meaning "Driver’s License") would simply be switched to read "DP" (meaning "Driving Privilege"). The difference is nearly imperceptible as my mock-up illustrates. That California would conclude the interests of illegal aliens are so important that it's worth increasing the chances the TSA would miss the denotation is troubling. All four passenger jets involved in the 9/11 attack were bound for California and many Californians lost their lives that day.

Just recently, DHS approved a more distinctive version of the driver's license that reportedly will have the words "FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY" written on the front. Some states orient the IDs vertically, which really helps to differentiate from regular licenses. Pro-illegal immigration groups oppose these measures because they fear illegal aliens will be treated differently than those who are here legally. Of course, illegal aliens are supposed to be treated differently — they're to be deported in accordance with federal law.

Unfortunately, many activist groups and politicians have concluded that helping illegal aliens hide their lawlessness is more important than preventing another 9/11. Congress should consider tightening up the REAL ID standards. If problems like this continue, it wouldn't be surprising if voters in many states initiated referenda or legislation aimed at stopping the issuance of driver's licenses to people in the country illegally.

Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

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