New York State Senate Hearing on Governor Spitzer’s Proposal to Provide Driver’s Licenses to Illegal Aliens

By Michael W. Cutler on October 15, 2007

October 15, 2007

Statement of
Michael W. Cutler
Center for Immigration Studies

Before the New York State Legislature Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs and Senate Standing Committee on Transportation

Let me start out by thanking New York State Senate Chairmen Vincent L. Leibell and Thomas W. Libous for their leadership in convening this hearing to hopefully avert the implementation of policy that would represent a serious threat to national security and an egregious violation of law and common sense.

Under any circumstances it would legally and morally wrong for state or local governments to ignore the federal laws of our nation, including the immigration laws. In this post 9/11 world it is unthinkable. We are indeed a nation of immigrants, but there is a world of difference between aliens who have been lawfully admitted into this nation and those who have decided to run our nation’s borders or in other ways violate the immigration laws of the United States. There are those who have the desire to blur the distinction between aliens who are lawfully admitted as immigrants and aliens who are illegally present in the United States. The use of the language becomes a tool of deception for those who are determined to eradicate our nation’s borders. So I will take this opportunity to make clear the language that makes an honest discussion difficult if not impossible. The term alien is not a pejorative; it is the legal term used in our Constitution and in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The term alien is simply defined as being any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.

The difference between an illegal alien and an immigrant is the difference between a burglar and a houseguest.

Today our nation confronts an immigration crisis of unprecedented proportions that is inextricably linked to several major issues that impact our nation on all levels and in all states. Our nation’s ongoing failures to secure its borders and to create an immigration system that possesses meaningful integrity has enabled criminals and terrorists to gain access to our country and in the parlance of the 9/11 Commission, embed themselves in communities around our country. I refer to this as “hiding in plain sight.”

Indeed, for decades the federal government has failed abysmally at those efforts that are so desperately needed to secure the borders of our nation and to effectively enforce and administer the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States. I would remind you that illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. These failures are felt on a daily basis in communities throughout the United States. The number of illegal aliens living and working in our country is at an all time high. Meanwhile, the fact that there are millions of illegal and undocumented aliens living among us also creates a major problem where criminal justice is concerned and a national security nightmare for our nation and our people.

The issue of illegal immigration is one that I am quite familiar with. I worked for the former INS for approximately 30 years. During my tenure with that agency I took a veritable “grand tour.” I began my career in 1971 as an immigration inspector assigned to John F. Kennedy International Airport. I remained in that position until 1975 when I became a criminal investigator as that position was known back then, today that position is known as a “special agent.” I rotated through every division within the investigations branch.

I conducted investigations into marriage fraud and document fraud. I arrested aliens who were simply working illegally in the United States and aliens involved in narcotics trafficking, gun running, rape and murder. I have also arrested a number of terrorism suspects. I spent nearly 4 years assigned to the Unified Intelligence Division of the DEA in New York and ultimately was promoted to the position of Senior Special Agent assigned to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. I have worked closely with member of other federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA and ATF among others. I have worked with local and state law enforcement agencies including the New York State Police and the New York City Police. I even worked with members of law enforcement agencies from other countries including Canada, Great Britain, Israel and Japan. I truly took the scenic route in my career and it was a real privilege to work with the great men and women of all of those agencies.

My job provided me with many things. It provided me, of course, with a paycheck but it also provided me with an incredible education. Additionally for me, as is the case for most members of the law enforcement community, being a law enforcement officer is about much more than money. In fact, if it was only about money, probably few of us would have continued on with our careers because you certainly don’t earn enough money to justify the long hours and the risks to life and limb that the job entails. For most of us, law enforcement provided us with a way to serve our communities and our nation.

When I worked with local cops we all quickly stopped thinking about who worked for which agency and simply focused on the fact that we were all working together to accomplish a common goal, to make New York safer for everyone. This was a true team effort!

This approach makes perfect sense. Our nation is a unique nation with a unique name. Stop and think about it: our country, unlike any other in so many ways even has a name that makes the unique nature of our country clear. The United States of America really says it all! Our nation is made up of discrete states that are united in a common cause under a common flag with a common constitution. While many countries have a national police force, our nation vests much authority in local law enforcement agencies and then provides federal law enforcement officers who enforce specific segments of the federal laws with some overlap.

I spent nearly half of my career working closely with other agencies in a “Task Force” arrangement. At the Unified Intelligence Division at DEA my immediate supervisor for about half of my assigned time there was a sergeant with the NYPD. Other squads were supervised by New York State Police supervisors while other squads were supervised by supervisory DEA agents. The law enforcement officers in these squads came for a variety of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Local police officers were given federal security clearances and we worked as a unified team.

I thought it would be important to talk about my experiences at the DEA because Governor Spitzer and other political advocates for illegal aliens are quick to claim that local law enforcement should not and can not enforce federal laws. This argument is utterly absurd. I have read reports that make the point that a significant percentage of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted are actually arrested by local police officers making motor vehicles stops for Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions as well as other violations of local laws.. Simply stated, a warrant is a warrant. There is absolutely no reason that local law enforcement can not be enlisted to help deter all sorts of violations of law including immigration law.

I have also listened to other baseless arguments that the control of our nation’s borders is purely the responsibility of the federal government, therefore local and state governments should not be involved in issues that relate back to our nation’s failure to secure the borders of the United States. In point of fact, most of the narcotics that is sold on streets throughout our nation were smuggled into the United States across those very same borders that the smugglers of aliens surreptitiously cross, often, in fact, using smuggled aliens to carry the drugs. This is such a routine situation that there is a name that is given to an illegal alien who carries drugs across our nation’s borders, such illegal aliens are referred to as “mules.”

So, while the narcotics that is smuggled across our nation’s borders is often the focus of investigations by local and state law enforcement authorities, the aliens who enter our country in violation of law are ignored by politicians, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is seen as the politically expedient thing to do.

Similarly, there is no reason that the various bureaucracies of the various states should not take immigration law into account when carrying out their various responsibilities.

The issuance of driver’s licenses is an issue of particularly grave concern, especially in this perilous day and age. The United States has no national identity card. While many countries around the world issue such documents, the United States does not. However, the humble driver’s license serves as the de facto national identity card today. When we board airliners or AMTRAK trains, we are asked to produce our driver’s license. We also need to show them to enter many office buildings and federal buildings. Driver’ licenses are used for business transactions especially when we need to prove our identities when we pay by personal check or by credit card. We even use driver’s licenses to check into hotels. Driver’s licenses are one of the documents that can be used in support of the I-9 form that employers are required to have new employees fill out when they hire them in an effort to prevent illegal aliens from gaining illegal employment.

It is easy to see that a driver’s license does far more than document our authority to drive vehicles; driver’s licenses enable us to do our daily business. The driver’s license enables us to establish our identities to the satisfaction of those we interact with on a daily basis.

In so many ways, the driver’s license is the platinum card that opens so many doors.

The terrorists who attacked our nation on September 11, 2001 understood the value of driver’s licenses in establishing false identities for themselves. According to a report known as the “9/11 Staff Report on Terrorist Travel” the 19 terrorists who launched that horrific attack against our nation, in the aggregate used a total of 364 aliases and variations of names. In order to establish these various false identities they acquired a number of different sorts of identity documents including driver’s licenses in false names. The use of these false names made it all the more difficult for law enforcement to track the movements and activities of these malevolent individuals as they prepared to launch their attacks against our nation.

There is another issue concerning driver’s licenses that I urge you to consider. When an individual travels by airliner or train, he leaves a paper trail that can be followed if law enforcement officials are able to find out the names under which they traveled. By having a driver’s license, a criminal or terrorist has the perfect means of traveling in “stealth mode.” With a license, an individual can move freely around the entire country without leaving a paper trail if he pays his tolls by cash. This is yet another way that a driver’s license makes the work of those dedicated law enforcement officers who work tirelessly each and every day to try to keep us safe and our nation secure.

I have often made the point that the difference between a good guy and a bad guy is that the good guy gets up in the morning and goes through his stuff to decide on what he wants to wear. A criminal or terrorist goes through his stuff to decide on who he wants to be. Criminals and terrorists use changes in identity the way a chameleon uses changes in coloration, to blend into his surroundings and hide in plain sight among his intended victims.

While those who advocate for open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens make light of the fact that millions of aliens have run our nation’s borders, thereby evading the inspections process, this surreptitious manner of entry into our country threatens our safety and our national security. It is important to not lose sight of the mission of the Customs and Border Protection inspectors at ports of entry. These federal officers are not the equivalent of toll collectors collecting tolls at a bridge or toll road. These officers are charged with the responsibility of keeping out aliens for a variety of significant reason. Aliens are excludible if they have been convicted of felonies. Aliens may be excluded if they suffer certain forms of mental illness or are found to carry dangerous communicable diseases. Finally, aliens are excludible if they are members of violent gangs and terrorist organizations.

Aliens who enter our country without authority may be simply coming to accept illegal employment or they may be coming in that manner because they may know that they are ineligible to be lawfully admitted. They may be fugitives from justice in their own countries or other countries. These illegal aliens may be criminals or terrorists.
Finally, there are also over 600,000 alien fugitives who had been ordered to appear for immigration hearings or were, in fact, ordered deported from the United States and then managed to abscond in communities around the United States where they are now hiding in plain sight among us. Hundreds of thousands of these illegal aliens have convictions for serious crimes committed in the United States. These aliens would be able to secure driver’s licenses under Governor Spitzer’s proposal.

It is also entirely possible that an illegal alien may have been previously deported from the United States one or more times for having committed felonies in our country and then managed to slip back into our country surreptitiously. Such illegal aliens may also succeed in gaining a driver’s license under Governor Spitzer’s proposal because the immigration status of aliens seeking a driver’s license is of no apparent concern to the governor.

The proposal announced by Governor Spitzer would violate the provisions of the Real ID Act, legislation enacted by the federal government in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

It would be difficult to accept that the governor of any state would ignore the findings of the 9/11 Commission but to imagine that the Governor of the state that clearly bore the brunt of that horrific attack at a location, is absolutely impossible to comprehend. A government’s primary responsibility is to provide for the safety and well-being of the people who live within the jurisdiction of that government.

A final thought: one of the arguments that I continue to hear is that at present illegal aliens are now driving without driver’s licenses. Those who make this point go on to say that it makes good sense to provide them with driver’s licenses because to deny driver’s licenses to those who will drive with or without driver’s licenses is to deny the reality of the situation.

My response to this false argument is simple. There are many who illegally possess firearms. To ignore this fact is to deny reality. Should we therefore provide gun permits to those who want to possess firearms regardless of their potential criminal histories or immigration status?

No alien has the inherent right to enter our country without the authority of the government. This is no different from a homeowner having the absolute right to determine who may enter his home. Additionally, the authority to drive a vehicle is not a right but a privilege. It has been said that you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. It would appear that Governor Spitzer and the open borders advocates are intent on sending the dangerous message that in this nation and specifically in this state, you can not only anticipate getting away with violating our laws, we are eager to reward you for violating our laws. This is certainly an outrageous position for Governor Spitzer, a former prosecutor, to take.

Providing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens makes our nation less secure and would undoubtedly attract illegal aliens and potentially criminals and terrorists to New York State.

This must not be allowed to happen.

I look forward to your questions.