The Proposed Issuance of Maryland State Driver's Licenses to Illegal Aliens

By Michael W. Cutler on February 18, 2004

Testimony before the State of Maryland House of Delegates, Judiciary Committee

February 18, 2004

Michael W. Cutler
Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

I welcome this opportunity to address you today about the critical issue of the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens. I think it would be appropriate to begin by telling you about my background. I retired from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) as a Senior Special Agent in New York in February 2002, having served that agency in various capacities during the course of my career which spanned some 30 years. I began as an Immigration Inspector assigned to John F. Kennedy International Airport in October 1971. For one year I was assigned as an examiner to the unit that adjudicates petitions filed by spouses to accord resident alien status to the husband or wife of resident aliens or United States citizens.

In 1975, I became a criminal investigator, or special agent as that position is now referred to. I rotated through every squad within the investigations branch, and in 1988 I was assigned to the Unified Intelligence Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office. In 1991, I was promoted to the position of Senior Special Agent and assigned to the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, where I worked with a wide variety of law enforcement officers from various federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement organizations, including the FBI, DEA, IRS, U.S. Customs, ATF, New York State Police, New Jersey State Police, New York City Police and various county police departments, as well as with representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, New Scotland Yard, British Customs, Japanese National Police, and the Israeli National Police. Finally, I have testified at several congressional hearings as an expert witness at hearings that dealt with immigration issues.

I am currently a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

My professional experiences have provided me with a unique insight that I hope will be helpful to you as you grapple with this issue.

We currently live in a nation in which being politically correct permeates our society. In some ways this is a good thing, as it causes us to be careful to not offend any groups of people and show respect for everyone. On the other hand, it may also cloud issues and perceptions. George Orwell, the author of the book 1984 devised the concept of Newspeak in which words were regularly eliminated from the vernacular to alter perceptions and thought processes. An example of this Orwellian approach to immigration is the use of the politically correct term, Undocumented worker which has supplanted the legally correct term, Illegal alien. The term alien is not a pejorative term but rather is a legal term. According to Section 1101 of Title 8 of the United States Code, the body of law that focuses on immigration issues, the term alien is defined as, any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. When citizens of the United States travel outside the United States, they become aliens in the countries to which they travel. I respectfully suggest that by failing to properly recognize the fact that when aliens, especially illegal aliens, enter this country, they are not automatically entitled to every right and privilege enjoyed by United States citizens or by Lawfully Admitted Permanent Resident Aliens. We have sovereign borders that we must enforce if our country's continued existence is to be ensured. A country without borders can no more stand than can a house without walls. By blurring the distinction between what is legal and what is illegal, we encourage the rampant entry of illegal aliens into the United States, and we also encourage other criminal activities. While it is true that the responsibility to enforce the Immigration and Nationality Act falls to the federal government, individual states must do their part in creating an environment that is not conducive to illegal immigration.

We are often told that the immigration laws are not enforceable. Those who take this position will point to the 8 to 14 million illegal aliens currently estimated to be living in the United States today and draw the conclusion that these massive numbers illustrate how unenforceable the laws governing the presence of aliens in the United States are. I would respond by telling you that the immigration laws are no more, nor no less enforceable than any other laws. Motor vehicle laws, drug laws, firearms laws, and others are not more inherently enforceable than the immigration laws, yet no one would seriously suggest we give up attempting to enforce those other laws. The only laws which enjoy a 100 percent compliance rate are the laws of nature. The scientists and engineers at NASA might like to find a way of violating the law of gravity but have thus far been unable to do so.

Man's laws, on the other hand, are imperfect, and so the best we can do, in addition to our limited efforts at enforcing our laws, is to offer deterrence to discourage people from violating our laws. We set up sobriety checkpoints and impose severe penalties for drivers who are caught driving while intoxicated. We seize the assets of criminals who amass money and material property through criminal activities both as a way of generating funds for the government as well as a way of punishing and deterring criminals. We understand that the way to increase the rate of compliance in which law violators are concerned is to devise strategies that discourage the violations of law and to impose penalties on those who break the law nevertheless.

We are here today to discuss whether or not the state of Maryland should issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens. I believe that the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens is the wrong thing to do. The issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens aids and abets illegal aliens in living and working illegally in the United States. My understanding of Maryland's motor vehicle law is that the state of Maryland accepts foreign driver's licenses for a period of one year if the license is accompanied by a passport and other such documentation.

It is clear that the desire by aliens who are illegally in the United States to obtain a driver's license goes beyond the need to drive a car in the United States. In the post 9/11 world we have come to use a driver's license as an identity document that can facilitate the bearer's boarding an airplane or train. It can also be used to gain entry into various government buildings. Additionally, the driver's license is one of several documents that are enumerated on the form I-9 which an employer must maintain on file for each employee and may therefore facilitate an illegal alien seeking employment in the United States. Additionally, the driver's license can be used as a so-called breeder document in which the bearer of the license obtains other identity documents based on the driver's license.

What I find disturbing about the use of driver's licenses is that there are no guarantees that the bearer of the license is who he or she claims to be. This is a flaw in the system that goes beyond the reach of this hearing, but it is worth considering. The only thing worse than no security is false security. The way we currently use driver's licenses as an identity document provides us with a false sense of security, but it is the method by which we currently do business today. In my career as an immigration officer I have encountered many individuals who had several different driver's licenses in different names that they had procured in an effort to conceal their true identity. This is why we often hear that the illegal aliens who live in our country inhabit the shadows.

According to recently published statistics, some 400,000 illegal aliens who have been ordered deported from the United States are currently being sought, having failed to turn themselves in. In my experience, many of them will have succeeded in creating false identities for themselves as they seek to evade the immigration authorities. Access to driver's licenses in an assumed identity will go a long way in their quest to create new identities for themselves.

Consider this: aliens who are illegally in the United States became illegal aliens in one of two ways; they either entered the United States by crossing the border without being properly inspected this includes stowaways who hide in boats or airplanes or they enter the United States through a port of entry. Some of the aliens who enter through ports of entry do so under assumed identities, concealing their true identities and, perhaps, criminal backgrounds or other issues that if known by the inspector at the time of entry would have served as a basis for denial of admission. Other aliens enter with valid visas or under the Visa Waiver Program which permits aliens from some 28 countries to enter the United States without first obtaining a visa and then, in one way or another, violate their respective immigration status in the United States. That means that they overstay the allotted period of time for which they were admitted, they accept employment without proper authorization, or they get arrested and are subsequently convicted of committing a felony.

According to recently published estimates, perhaps half of all illegal aliens did not enter without inspection but rather entered the United States through a port of entry and then violated the law. This was the case with each and every one of the 19 hijackers who attacked our nation on September 11.

In most cases, the goal of illegal aliens is to obtain employment in the United States, but this is not the only motivation for illegal aliens. While it is only a relatively small proportion of illegal aliens who become involved in serious criminal activity, a disproportionately large percentage of our criminal population is comprised of aliens. In 1988 I was assigned to the DEA Unified Intelligence Division in New York. I conducted an analysis of DEA arrest records and determined that some 60 percent of individuals who were arrested by DEA in the New York City area were identified as being foreign born, while nationwide, some 30 percent were identified as being foreign born.

As you may know, the two reasons that law enforcement officials fingerprint defendants when they are arrested is to properly identify the suspect in custody and to document the fact that the suspect was indeed arrested. This is essential because criminals often have multiple identities. They conceal their true identities in order to evade detection and when caught, they hope to thwart efforts by law enforcement officers from learning their true identities and their criminal backgrounds. In many cases, illegal aliens who were arrested attempted to conceal the fact that they were aliens and falsely claimed to be United States citizens to avoid being deported after they completed their prison sentences. In my experience, numerous drug suspects, in whose arrest I participated, were found to be in possession of multiple identity documents that they used to attempt to conceal their true identities. The most common identity documents that they carried were false Social Security cards and driver's licenses in different names.

Finally, I would like to remind you that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. The issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens will make it easier for aliens who are living and working illegally in the United States to circumvent our laws. It will also aid criminal aliens and terrorists in concealing themselves within our country. The only reasonable course of action is to not issue driver's licenses to aliens who are illegally in the United States.