Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Democrats won't stop drivers license verification bill


Democrats won't stop drivers license verification bill, Reid says

By Sergio Bustos and Doug Abrahms, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — A controversial bill that would require states to verify the citizenship or legal status of anyone applying for a drivers license will likely become law because Senate Democrats don't have the votes to stop it, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

Aimed at illegal immigrants, the so-called Real ID Act is expected to be included in a final version of an $81 billion spending bill to fund the war in Iraq, according to Reid, D-Nev. House and Senate lawmakers begin negotiating a final version of the spending bill this week.

Reid and most Democrats had fought for months against the Real ID measure and succeeded in keeping it out of the Senate version of the spending bill. But Reid said Democrats have decided they would not hold up passage of the Iraq war spending bill solely because it includes the Real ID Act.

Republicans "are going to keep the Real ID (Act) on the supplemental," said Reid, who opposes the measure. "They did it on purpose. They put it on the supplemental, which we couldn't stop" because both parties support the additional funds for U.S. troops.

President Bush has pledged to sign the bill into law if the House and Senate can work out their differences.

Forty-one states already require drivers license applicants to document their legal status, but the bill would require states to perform a more extensive verification.

In addition, there would be a uniform license in all states, and states would pay to redesign their licenses.

In the addition to the drivers license provision, the Real ID Act would:

•Make it tougher for foreigners to win political asylum by giving immigration judges more authority to decide the merits of the asylum applications.

•Waive local environmental laws to allow the federal government to complete a 14-mile a fence near San Diego that separates the United States and Mexico.

A diverse collection of more than 600 groups, including immigration advocates, environmentalists, Christian groups and state motor vehicle officials, had rallied in a furious lobbying effort in the Senate to kill the measure.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the bill's main sponsor, has repeatedly argued that critics of his bill have misconstrued its intent. He said it would combat terror, strengthen national security and improve public safety.

"The goal of the Real ID Act is straightforward," he said. "It seeks to prevent another 9/11-type terrorist attack by disrupting terrorist travel."

Sensenbrenner said potential terrorists today could easily obtain drivers licenses and manipulate the U.S. asylum system to gain legal entry into the United States.

On Tuesday, Sensenbrenner will take part in a news conference with other supporters in Congress and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that advocates stricter immigration laws.

Immigration advocates say the bill is mean-spirited and targets millions of legal immigrants. They said it would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining a drivers license, forcing them to drive unlicensed and uninsured.

"The real solution is to create incentives (for immigrants) to play by the rules ... and create disincentives to coming illegally," said Christina DeConcini, policy director of the National Immigration Forum.

State officials argue the bill would cost millions of dollars to put into effect and turn state motor vehicle clerks into immigration agents.

Cheye Calvo, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the bill would force states to verify the authenticity of passports, green cards, birth certificates and other documents presented by drivers license applicants.

"The requirements are just unworkable," Calvo said.

Nonsense, countered Sensenbrenner, whose bill has 115 co-sponsors in the House.

"American citizens have the right to know who is in their country, that people are who they say they are, and that the name on the drivers license is the real holder's name, not some alias," he said.

Calvo noted that states and federal officials already are working together to create uniform standards for issuing drivers licenses, as recommended by the independent commission that studied the circumstances leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks.