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2007-11-29

Smith derides driver’s licenses for illegals

By Judith Pannebaker

It didn’t take long for United States District 21 Congressman Lamar Smith and his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives to respond to a nascent effort allowing states to issue drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.

Reduce illegal
immigration

As Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, Smith recently joined 154 of his House colleagues and introduced a Prevention of Unsafe Licensing Act bill, that ensures only legal residents of the United States can obtain driver’s licenses and identification documents.

“According to a recent poll, 69 percent of Americans want to see illegal immigration reduced,” Smith said. “Another 77 percent oppose giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The American people clearly want their government to secure the borders and enforce immigration laws. They understand that rewarding the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States only encourages another 12 million to come and stay.”

The matter came to a head during a Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 30. At that time, moderator Tim Russert queried Hillary Clinton about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s controversial plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Ill-starred proposal

In response, Clinton said the idea “makes a lot of sense” because it helped fill the “vacuum” left by the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

When challenged on her statement by another candidate, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, Clinton first backtracked then equivocated, denying she had indicated issuing licenses to illegal aliens “made sense” at all.

Judicial Watch, a nonprofit, public interest law firm dedicated to fighting government corruption, filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on behalf of a taxpayer against Spitzer’s plan to allow all New Yorkers an opportunity to apply for drivers licenses “without regard to immigration status.”

According to Judicial Watch, New York State law requires all applicants for driver’s licenses to provide social security numbers. The state’s new Department of Motor Vehicle policy, however, apparently dispensed with the requisite and required only a foreign passport and a secondary form of identification, such as a lease or “a copy of parole papers,” Judicial Watch, indicated.

An attorney for the watchdog law firm contended Spitzer and the DMV planned to implement the policy without involving the state legislature, and “without complying with the rule-making requirements prescribed by the State Administrative Procedure Act.”

“If Governor Spitzer wants to change the rules, he has to follow the rules - which means going through the New York State Legislature and otherwise following New York law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

In response to the public outcry, Spitzer abandoned his controversial proposal on Nov. 14, which prompted Fitton to add, “We are pleased that Eliot Spitzer responded to Judicial Watch’s taxpayer lawsuit and the will of the citizens of New York, and abandoned his irresponsible plan to issue driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.”

Fitton continued, “Let this be a lesson to all public officials who continue to push sanctuary policies for illegal aliens despite overwhelming public opposition. The American people speak with one voice on the issue of illegal immigration. State and local officials are expected to help enforce immigration laws, not undermine and violate them.”

Hillary responds

Shortly after Spitzer dumped his plan, Clinton also announced her opposition to issuing drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

In a statement, she said, “I support Governor Spitzer’s decision to withdraw his proposal. As president, I will not support driver’s licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system.”

According to Smith, by granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, states only make it easier for illegal immigrants to live and work in the US. He continued, “The policies also raise serious national security concerns. The 9-11 terrorists obtained a total of 28 state-issued identification documents or driver’s licenses.”

In response to the driver’s license flap, Republicans introduced the bill that, if approved, would prohibit states from rewarding illegal immigrants with driver’s licenses, said Smith.

“An important part of national security means that only legal residents can obtain government-issued identification. By requiring all states to check the legal status of residents before issuing driver’s licenses, this bill takes an important step towards securing our nation,” he said.

Currently, eight states - Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington - do not require proof of citizenship prior to issuing licenses, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

However, an article in The Arizona Republic reported all of Mexico’s 31 states, along with Mexico City, require foreigners to present a valid visa when applying for a driver’s license.