Driver’s-license bill misses the point

We need to reform immigra-tion law in ways that improve security, not make it worse.

This week the House passed an immigration law that would require each state’s department of motor vehicles to verify the immigration status of an individual before issuing them a driver’s license. Their rational is that taking driver’s licenses out of the hands of undocumented individuals will improve national security – after all, the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers used driver’s licenses to board the plains. There are several large flaws in this rational. In fact, this bill will actually lead to a decrease in national security.

First of all, only two of the hijackers were undocumented individuals. Second, if an individual is capable of carrying out a terrorist attack, they are certainly capable of acquiring a fake driver’s license – something most college first-year students can do. Third, the National Governors’ Association calls this “a huge unfunded mandate” – it will cost lots of money to screen each applicant’s immigration status. There are other anti-terrorism measures and offices that are more effective and could use adequate funding. Last time I checked, we are not running a government surplus. 

The very reason for this debate is the deplorable state of our current immigration system. The fact is that this country has between 6 million and 8 million undocumented residents. In the past five years, I have lived in Washington, Minnesota, Florida and Virginia. Due to my Hispanic roots, I have had the fortune of meeting good, upstanding immigrants, many of whom came here due to economic necessity, and many of whom are undocumented. This country functions because these individuals are willing to do jobs that U.S. citizens will not do. Yet these people are forced into a legal no-man’s land because our system denies them legal residence. Crimes perpetuated against them go unreported because they are loath to draw the attention of law enforcement officers. For these same reasons, work places find it easy to ignore labor laws, child labor restrictions and carry out entirely illegal work activities – after all, the workers have no rights in this country.

The fact that U.S. residents cannot lay claim to legal protection fractures the rule of law. This undermines our national security and our sense of justice. Under the current system, immigrants who provide valuable services to this country are not even afforded basic legal rights.

Congress has known for a long time that this fundamental problem requires an overhaul of the immigration system. Yet instead of seeking a middle ground that will allow these millions of residents to normalize their situation, they are passing a law that will take away their ability to obtain a driver’s license. I assure you that undocumented immigrants will not leave the United States just because they cannot get a driver’s license. They will turn, en masse, to fake driver’s licenses, further undermining our national security web.

The Senate still has the opportunity to vote against this bill. The matter must be considered in a bill that also reforms immigration laws. This is the sensible and just way to approach immigration issues. It might seem intuitive that undocumented immigrants should not be granted a driver’s license, but seen in the context of our overall immigration laws, it is clear that the proposed measure is unjust and unsafe.

Abraham Wise is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]