February 11, 2005,
“For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”
The House of Representatives Thursday finally acted on this finding from the 9/11-commission staff by overwhelmingly (261-161) approving an important border-security measure, the Real ID Act of 2005. The provisions of the bill, championed by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, were originally included in the House version of last year's intelligence-reform bill, but were dropped after Senate objections.
The measure would set standards for driver's licenses or other state identification documents to be accepted for federal purposes (like boarding an airplane); make it easier to deny terrorists asylum; and overcome environmentalist obstructions to completing the border fence south of San Diego.
The American Civil Liberties Union was stridently opposed to the bill, which is a selling point for conservatives. On the other hand, a few voices on the Right also opposed the bill, such as the American Conservative Union and the Free Congress Foundation, based on unfounded fears that the bill is the leading edge of a move toward a centralized national ID card. But the bill merely sets minimum standards for driver's licenses, e.g., that states have to check the legal status of the applicants, that the expiration date of the license should coincide with the visa expiration date of a visitor who obtains a license, and that licenses should be modernized to make them more secure. Insofar as they represent national-security and immigration-control functions that are within the legitimate ambit of the federal government, it is not overreaching for the feds to set minimal requirements. Even Phyllis Schlafly, who yields to no one in her suspicion of the federal bureaucracy, approves of the bill.
new immigration initiatives
want to be taken seriously,
they must back this
border-control measure. ”
The measure will now go to the Senate, probably attached to the Iraq supplemental-appropriations bill. Senate Republicans are much less interested in border control than their House colleagues and more supportive of illegal-alien amnesties and vast new guest-worker schemes. But if supporters of such new immigration initiatives want to be taken seriously, they must back this border-control measure. However unwise amnesties or "temporary" worker programs, the debate over them cannot even begin without an unequivocal commitment to enforcing whatever laws we decide to have.
This bill is only a small down payment on such a commitment. Among the other measures that need to be in place are a ban on acceptance of the Mexican government's illegal-alien ID card; enforcement of the bar against knowing employment of illegal aliens; enhanced federal cooperation with state and local police on immigration matters; and elimination of legal-immigration categories that promote illegal immigration, such as the egregious visa lottery that randomly hands 50,000 green cards out a year that end up creating new migration chains that enable illegal immigration.
Even the Sensenbrenner bill isn't perfect. It has a loophole. It would permit states to go the way of Tennessee, which has developed a separate driver's license for illegal aliens (supposedly not for broader identification purposes, but only for driving). This obviously evades one of the main purposes of the bill. But however limited this measure is, it performs an important political function; no lawmaker who opposes it can ever again plausibly claim to support border control.