House Approves Immigration Bill

The Associated Press reports that the House of Representatives approved Congressman James Sensenbrenner’s Real ID Act of 2005, H.R.418 by a 261-161 vote.

The legislation will force the states to make sure they’re not granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, allow the federal government to complete a controversial fence on the border with Mexico, regardless of environmental concerns, and grant judges broader power to deport political asylum seekers.

States will have three years to comply with the new federal standards dictating what features driver's licenses must have. They could still issue special driving permits to illegal aliens, but those permits would not be recognized as identities for boarding airlines or allowing entry to federal buildings.

According to the Associated Press, ten states now don't require license applicants to prove they are citizens or legal residents:

Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah. Tennessee issues driving certificates to people who cannot prove they are legal residents.

"Today there are over 350 valid driver's license designs issued by the 50 states," said the bill's author, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "We all know it's very difficult for security officials at airports to tell the real ID cards from the counterfeit ones."

Mexico is critical of the bill:

We oppose those measures and that our migrants be denied drivers' licenses," said Interior Secretary Santiago Creel. "We're against building any wall between our two countries because they are walls that increase our differences.

This bill, if it passes the Senate is an important step in securing our borders and bringing some sanity to U.S. immigration policy. These measures were among the corrective actions identified by the September 11 Commission.

The provisions about drivers licences are critical because driver licenses often used for such security-sensitive purposes as boarding commercial aircraft, gaining access to federal facilities and establishing bank accounts. Requiring that the states establish that an applicant has legal resident status in the United States, and that his or her license will be valid only as long as that remains the case is pretty sensible.

This will also help prevent circumstances that enabled the September 11 hijackers to obtain dozens of such IDs.

Making it more difficult for terrorists to seek and obtain asylum in the United States is also an important rationalization of our immigration policy. As Mr. Sensenbrenner has put it, the objective is to ensure 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."

Ensuring that environmental laws can no longer be used to prevent completion of a border fence near San Diego is also a no-brainer. Now a 3½ mile gap allows illegal aliens easy access to the United States.

The REAL ID bill also makes it clear that members of a terrorist organization or group that "endorses or espouses terrorist activity" are inadmissible to the United States and facilitates deporting any such individuals found in this country.

So why couldn't these reforms be passed last year? How could anyone be against these simple steps to improve our security?

You will have to ask the Senate Democrats that prevented these provisions from being included when the Congress acted on other September 11 Commission recommendations last year in the so-called "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act ."

The House Democrats voted against the Real ID Act by a 3 to 1 margin:

Republican 219 Democratic 42 Total 261
Republican 8 Democratic 152 Independent 1 Total161
Not Voting
Republican 4 Democratic 7 Total 11

How could they?

Posted by Dan Spencer at February 11, 2005 12:05 PM