California's Drive to Give Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses

By Janice Kephart on March 2, 2012

Last week, Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca said that it would be "sensible" to issue California driver's licenses to illegal aliens, endorsing a plan that pits California against the rest of the country and federal law for driver's license issuance. It's ironic that a major law enforcement figure naively endorses a plan that would prevent the U.S. citizens and legal residents he is charged with protecting from using a California license for identity purposes at airline security checkpoints. As I discussed in my recent report on REAL ID Act implementation, federal law requires legal presence for access to a REAL ID compliant driver's license. Most states, including California, have made remarkable progress in all areas of implementation and are actively checking for legal presence at the DMV counter now. Mr. Baca's proposal — which has significant grassroots resistance from law enforcement, politicians, and concerned citizens — would put California at odds with the rest of the country, where state motor vehicle agencies are expected to be producing "REAL IDs" by January 15, 2013. My research shows that 36 states will likely meet that deadline. California is one of the few that will likely miss the deadline, continuing to give illegal aliens driver's licenses and making it impossible for Californians to use their driver's licenses to board planes or access federal buildings come 2014.

The REAL ID Act was passed to help secure the United States against the type of fraud committed by the 19 9/11 hijackers, which I investigated with my colleagues on the 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 hijackers had 30 IDs between them, a third of them fraudulently obtained in Virginia in August 2001. Those driver's licenses helped the terrorists look like assimilated U.S. residents and saved them from extra scrutiny at the airline ticket counter on the morning of 9/11. Driver's licenses provide essential support for illegal aliens and make their lives here easier on a daily basis. By allowing the illegal population access to driver's licenses we allow aliens to assume the identities of unsuspecting Americans without repercussion, undermining what we learned about how fraud operates in ID acquisition at the state level.

In a Los Angeles Times story in which I was quoted last week, Sheriff Baca said that such licenses should only be issued after illegal immigrants fill out comprehensive applications. But his caveat is a red herring. No information on any application matters if it cannot be confirmed to assure identity or show association with illegal activity. Illegal aliens — no matter what is argued from an immigration standpoint — simply cannot meet the REAL ID standard for ensuring people are who they say they are. California's motor vehicle agency cannot vet the date of birth, Social Security number, green card data, residency, or any other data required of those legally present and whose identity information can be checked. Just by virtue of their status illegal aliens are incapable of being REAL ID-compliant.

By issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens, California also risks repeating Maryland's 2009 mistake, when the state became a magnet for illegal aliens, who overran the Maryland motor vehicle agency with out-of-state and out-of-country driver's license applications. In Maryland, that surge not only drained the state's health and education coffers, but also increased crime. Despite being stridently anti-REAL ID and pro-illegal alien, Maryland's governor was nevertheless forced to call an emergency meeting of the state legislature to implement REAL ID compliance. The drain on state resources subsided almost immediately and today Maryland is a leader in REAL ID compliance.

California is living Maryland's history and needs to consider the consequences of permitting illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses when 53 of 56 jurisdictions nationwide (the 50 states and six territories) already enjoy the benefits of REAL ID.