Panel Transcript: America's Identity Crisis

Document Fraud is Pervasive and Pernicious

Related: Report

Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies

Marti Dinerstein, President, Immigration Matters

Tom Wolfsohn, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Communication, American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA)

Robert Rector, Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Good morning. I’m Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Here in the United States there’s documentation, secure documents of identity, and in the case of immigration work authorization and the status of your visa, what have you. Unfortunately, the starting point of too much of the debate over secure identification is three words: “Your papers, please.” It is the idea that any efforts to improve the integrity of identification documents is the first step toward the SS knocking on your front door.

But those of you who work in this building have Congressional ID’s that you showed as you passed security. I’m going to be flying to Atlanta Friday and I’m going to have to show my driver’s license over and over again before I board the plane. When you get a new job you have to demonstrate your identity and your eligibility to work. Often, sometimes, that’s done with the passport or it’s done with two separate documents, with a driver’s license and a Social Security card.

So we have a system of personal identification. It just isn’t very good. Before September 11th this was a problem, but it wasn’t really perceived as all that urgent. Illegal aliens used fraudulent documents to get jobs. People’s identities were sometimes stolen because of low-quality identification documents. 

There was an indication that this was a security concern after the attacks on the World Trade Center and related early nineties terrorist attacks, such that Congress in 1996 in the large immigration bill that it passed had a provision requiring minimum standards for state driver’s license and for birth certificates. That was set to go into effect two years later and right before it did that the provision was repealed, led by Congressman Barr and others. So it really wasn’t, the issue just wasn’t seen as all that urgent.

After the September 11th attacks, our lax identification system came to be seen as a much bigger problem than we had thought before, at least some of us had thought. The hijackers had driver’s licenses from New Jersey and Florida and Virginia. That issue has continued to resonate. The issue of driver’s licenses for illegal aliens has become politically important in several states, in Tennessee and California for instance. The Social Security Administration is now conducting a program to identify mismatched names and numbers. There’s a news story from the Post in the packets that we gave you.

Talk of national ID cards or improving our identification system has reached a pretty high level. The Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison volunteered his services for no pay to develop the national ID card, which is news in itself, I think. Alan Dershowitz publicly wrote about the need for better identification. Senator Durbin has introduced legislation, as have Congressmen Moran and Davis, to improve the integrity of our identification system.

So it seemed like a good idea to offer kind of an overview, a primer on this issue. Marti Dinerstein is the author of the paper that we’re releasing today that's in your packets,“America’s Identity Crisis,” and she’s going to present her comments about the three main identification documents that we have, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security numbers, and then some recommendation for action.

The two people responding to her paper and also talking generally on the issue of secure documents will be Tom Wolfsohn, who is Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Communications at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, an organization I confess I didn’t even know existed until last year, but has been around for almost 60 years and is essentially all the DMV administrators from around the country.

The other respondent will be Robert Rector, a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has written extensively about welfare and welfare reform issues, but also has written on the issue of the quality and integrity of our documentation system.

So everybody will have their chance to talk and then we’ll take questions from the audience. Marti?


MS. DINERSTEIN: Thank you, Mark, and good morning to all of you.

I’d like to start by giving some background on why I wrote “America’s Identity Crisis.” Those of us involved in the field of immigration policy are well aware that at every level of government gaping loopholes exist that have facilitated the growth of an illegal population that today numbers over 8 million people. But it was clear after September 11th that the American people were shocked to discover this. 

They could not understand why people on short-term visas were given driver’s licenses. They were outraged that any foreign citizen with enough cash could come to the United States, learn how to fly jet planes, and receive rubber stamp authorization from the INS months after they finish their training. They were perplexed why foreign students were permitted to study here, but no one cared if they showed up for class. And they were dumbfounded to discover that Saudi citizens could take advantage of a new customer service program initiated by our embassy that permitted them to go to a local travel agency, process their papers there, the travel agency then would forward them to our embassy for approval, so the person applying for the visa never had to see anyone at our embassy.

The list is longer, but you get the idea. I thought it would be helpful to write a primer of sorts that the average American could understand on how over 8 million illegal people can live in the United States undetected and with little fear of exposure, much less punishment if their illegal status is discovered.

One of the most important reasons why that can happen is widespread document fraud. Ordinary documents like birth certificates, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, things that American citizens take for granted, are prized possessions for illegal residents, who go to extraordinary lengths to obtain them. Providing these false documents to millions of people has become a large, sophisticated, and profitable business to unsavory characters that use the same modus operandi as drug dealers and human smugglers.

Our government has been slow to recognize this threat to the integrity of our identity documents, for reasons I detail in my paper. But as the size of the illegal population exploded during the last decade, some of these issues attracted the attention of Congress and federal and state government agencies. So the problems have been known for some time by people with the authority to fix them. Their success record is poor.

A birth certificate is issued to every American essentially when we emerge from the womb. They are not documents we think much about. I have thought about it only once, when I needed it for a marriage license. But it's one of the most important so-called breeder documents that allow illegal residents to obtain Social Security numbers and driver's licenses.

All 50 states issue certified copies of birth certificates, but so do 7,000 local registrars. These are home town offices staffed by overworked clerks who are not thinking about deceit and fraud. If they get a mailed-in request for a duplicate certificate, they assume that request is valid and they mail the dupe, thus possibly turning an undocumented alien into an American citizen.

Access to personal data contained in public records is of mounting concern to lawmakers and privacy experts because of the issue of identity fraud. Last December, in the name of public disclosure, an official in California’s Health Services Department sold to a genealogical research company for the sum of $1,500 the birth and death records of more than 24 million people who were born or died in the state between 1905 and 1995. The data included names, birth dates, birth locations, and mother’s maiden names, the latter of which, as you know, is often a password for verifying by credit card companies, health insurers, and the like. Following a blizzard of complaints, the company voluntarily pulled the database. But it’s emblematic of how clueless many government employees are as to the threat to our most basic identity documents.

The ways to fix the security problems with respect to birth certificates are well known. There should be mandated national standards for issuing and providing certified copies. Both birth and death records should be computerized so they can be matched. But this understandably is not a high priority in states that are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws.

However, a national effort was authorized by Congress in 1996 which designated the INS as lead agency to build a computer system that would match interstate and intrastate birth and death certificates to help stop identity fraud. More than 5 years later, little progress has been made. This is unfortunate, as birth certificates are the first building block illegal residents use in their quest for Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses.

A Social Security number conveys legitimacy. A fraudulently obtained one allows illegal residents to get a job, apply for a license, open a bank account, and generally melt unnoticed into our society. I've detailed six different ways they can be fraudulently obtained in my paper.

The Social Security Administration is well aware that document fraud is rampant. It is their responsibility to inspect the documentary evidence regarding age, identity, and legal status and they have made progress. It’s providing today its employees with a guide prepared by the INS that highlights what to look for when inspecting documents. Its employees have access to an online INS database to determine legal status. Safeguards have been built into SSA’s computers that permit them to flag transactions with the greatest potential for fraud, like mailing ten or more numbers to the same address within a six-month period, which happened.

Yet it has been reported that most, if not all, of the September 11th hijackers had Social Security numbers. How? This may have been because if an illegal alien invents a Social Security number, steals or borrows an authentic card, or buys a counterfeit one, most likely the Social Security Administration won't catch it without the aid of employers, and few employers seem inclined to ffer that cooperation.

As we know, each year at tax time, employees’ earnings records are sent to the IRS on W-2 forms. This year the Social Security Administration has stepped up its effort to identify employees whose names don't match their Social Security numbers. The purpose is to be sure that individuals get the credit they deserve for their earnings. However, revealing someone’s illegal status is sometimes a byproduct of that search. The Social Security Administration plans to send out 750,000 such letters this year to the nation’s 6.5 million employers, versus the 110,000 that they sent out in 2001.

Even though there can be innocent reasons for why a mismatch occurs, the SSA acknowledges that there is  rampant fraud among the illegal community. They know this, but have no authority to levy fines against employers, even those who are habitual offenders.

The IRS does have the authority to fine employers the sum of $50 for every mismatched number and it can fine employees as well, $50. Apparently it rarely does so. But this paltry sum would hardly have a deterrent effect even if it were levied. 

The trivialization of crimes committed by undocumented aliens is widespread. We try to catch them at our borders. If we do not succeed, increasingly they are given a free ride even if they break additional laws while here. But the end game of this leniency is an illegal community equal to the population of ten states.

We need to erect more firewalls to prevent illegal aliens’ misuse of this simple nine-digit number that has become a pass key to the American way of life. Possessing a Social Security card, however obtained, greatly enhances the chances of receiving a valid driver's license, the most widely accepted identification in the U.S. Indeed, it is our de facto national identity card. I hesitate to even mouth those words because they provoke heated debate on all sides of the political spectrum, so I’ll happily leave that quagmire for our other speakers to address.

But there’s no doubt that a driver’s license or motor vehicle department-issued ID card is a key identity document all illegals seek. My paper discusses how criminal middlemen have discovered that helping people obtain licenses is a lucrative business. 

Motor vehicle departments are duped daily by deceit and fraud by undocumented aliens. But some states openly permit foreign nationals residing illegally in the U.S. to obtain a valid driver’s license. Examples are rife, but I’ll briefly mention just two. 

In 2001 Tennessee had the dubious distinction of enacting a law thought to be the nation’s most lenient for granting licenses to illegal residents. According to media reports, more than 30,000 immigrants swamped license testing centers in the first month after the law went into effect. A supply of 17,000 copies of Spanish language driving manuals ran out in 8 days. Lines started forming at dawn and resulted in such overcrowding that a fire marshal cleared one station and a landlord yanked a lease  in another. It was reported that as many as 60 percent of the applicants failed the written test and got right back into line to try again.

North Carolina also has a reputation for laxity on verifying documents. A newspaper reported that 388,000  people hold North Carolina licenses with the same Social Security number, 999-99-9999. Motor vehicle clerks enter that number if applicants don’t provide one. The identification problems are so severe and so well known  that Florida’s motor vehicle director took the extraordinary step of denying reciprocity to North Carolina drivers.

To me, the fact that state governors and legislators would openly subvert federal immigration law is the single most shocking and disturbing fact in my research. A valid driver’s license is the only ID one  needs to board a domestic flight. It is the only ID one needs to get into the White House, assuming of course one has an appointment to go there. 

Mandated national standards for driver’s licenses are urgently needed. The security features of  licenses must be upgraded. A common sense proposal is on the table that will be proposed by our next — that will be discussed by our next speaker. 

I thought I’d end by reading a news story dated May 9th. This falls under the category of no one likes bad things to happen in their neighborhood: “Immigration agents arrested 24 persons and seized counterfeit documents and counterfeiting equipment yesterday in an operation designed to disrupt the continuing false document open air markets in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The men were arrested yesterday following the execution of four search warrants at 2801 15th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. Subsequent to the search, INS agents also seized 360 fake alien registration cards, so-called‘green cards,’ 281 fraudulent Social Security cards, 70 bogus employment authorization cards, 46 counterfeit driver’s licenses from California, Utah, and Florida, and other equipment believed to be used in the production of the fraudulent documents.”

Document fraud is pervasive and pernicious throughout the United States, particularly in areas that have large illegal communities. Even though the vast majority of them wish us no ill, they are nonetheless doing harm by degrading the integrity of our documentation system. We are living in a dangerous world and America is a target. We can no longer tolerate the laissez faire attitude that threatens our ability to distinguish illegal aliens from U.S. citizens.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Marti. Mr. Wolfsohn next.


MR. WOLFSOHN: The driver’s license is the most commonly used form of identification in the United States. Probably for most of you, except the unfortunate few who are heavy-footed, you may have never used it really for driving purposes. You’ve used it to enter federal buildings, you’ve used it to get library cards, to rent an automobile, to board an airplane.

As Marti indicated, the system in the United States for issuing cards and the cards themselves is broken. Processes, procedures, and documents are not secure. 265 million people over the age of 15 in the U.S. and Canada have either a state or provincial-issued driver’s license or ID card. But over the years states and provinces have passed a variety of laws dealing with the driver’s license and in turn those have been interpreted really in a patchwork of regulations at the state and provincial level, resulting really in a myriad of processes and procedures to implement them.

It is really a highly exploitable system, full of loopholes. Today problem drivers are able to spread their convictions from state to state to state. Criminals use these cards to commit identity fraud and identity theft, the fastest growing crime in the United States according to the Federal Trade Commission, and, as Mark and Marti indicated, 18 of the 19 al Qaeda hijackers had either state-issued driver’s license or ID cards or counterfeit driver’s licenses. It is too easy to shop around in the United States and Canada and find the weakest link, as those busloads of undocumented aliens did  in Tennessee, only one example.

I’m here representing the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Our members are the chief administrators of state, provincial motor vehicle agencies, U.S. and Canada, most of them appointed by their governors. Their agencies are funded by their legislatures. Our membership also includes the senior law enforcement officials in those jurisdictions responsible or highway safety.

AAMVA has been working on this issue for many years really for highway safety and identity fraud goals. Mark mentioned the 1996 Immigration Reform Act, which was  subsequently repealed by privacy advocates. The 1998 Safe Highway Act, introduced by Representatives Moran and Morella following the death of the very promising young 17 year-old Bethesda resident, Benjamin Cooper, who was killed by a dump truck driven by a driver who had a wallet full of driver’s licenses from various states and had put together, I guess, around 20-odd moving violations spread  over those various states in the previous 10 years.  Unfortunately, that Act was not passed.

Of course, the reason we’re here today? After 9-11 driver’s license and ID security became a homeland security issue. Our association in October put together a task force. Recommendations were issued in January. In February we convened a leadership summit, invited our members and various stakeholders. Right now we’re working with 13 different working groups who are really kind of putting meat on the bones of the recommendations, adding the detail that will be necessary to implement them.

Right off the bat, I want to tell you that we’re not seeking a national ID card. We’re simply recommending measures to strengthen the security of the state government license and ID card. We’re not seeking a federal mandate, but rather a partnership, recommending that the states through AAMVA develop minimum standards for homeland security and advocate that the federal government adopt them.

We certainly respect the states’ role. We are in fact a state government organization. State governments have validated this process in other applications. The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, for example, AASHTO, the states through AASHTO, have set minimum federal standards for highway safety. We think that state officials don't want to issue a driver's license to the next terrorist any more than they want to approve the next substandard bridge. 

There are eight task force recommendations. First, improve and standardize the initial issuance process. That would include the development and implementation of DRIVerS. It’s a system that would allow each state to query the driver records of another state and verify the applicant's identity, not calling for any more information than is already contained in the driving record and no other application except to verify identity.

Motor vehicle agencies already exchange driver histories with commercial licenses and have done it for nearly 15 years through CDLIS. In all that time there have been no privacy concerns with CDLIS, no allegations of invasion of privacy. It contains 10 million commercial driver records. In a recent 4-year period it kept nearly 900,000 potentially dangerous commercial drivers off the road. It is a pointer system. It is not a mega-database. It cannot function as a database. It simply allows one state to access the driver records in another state.

In a report last year, DOT said both the commercial driver system and the national driver registry could be folded into a system to include both passenger and commercial licenses, DRIVerS.

Second, standardize the definition of residency. It was a critical factor in the hijackers’success. Today in the U.S. and Canada, 64 different definitions of  residency, the states, provinces, and territories.

Third and the principal subject we are here today for, establish uniform procedures for serving non-citizens. If we don’t, I think one of the first things we’re going to see is that driver’s license reciprocity which we enjoy today, moving from one state to another, simply handing over your driver's license and getting a new one from the new state, would disappear. 

Fourth, implement processes to produce a secure card to uniquely identify an individual. The lack of standard security features allows individuals to easily tamper with or counterfeit cards. On the Internet today I think there are 40 or 50 different sites where one can get driver’s licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards. They’re advertised as novelties. They don’t deliver the product; they download a template and then the individual with a computer printer and a digital camera produces the document. We intend to work with private industry and DOT and other stakeholders to recommend a combination of biometric identifiers — fingerprints, digital photographs, retinal scans — plus security features, some overt, some covert. These would be encrypted both in the card and would be contained in the driver record in the state database in order to more effectively distribute them and to combat the bad guys, frankly.

Fifth, establish methods to prevent and detect fraud and audit the issuance process. Source or breeder documents, which Marti mentioned, are used to verify  identity when someone applies for a license. In some states there are as many as 25 different documents that one can use. The problem is that we use the same documents that the Social Security Administration uses, that the IRS uses, that the State Department uses. It's really circular.

You use a Social Security card to get a driver’s license. You use a driver’s license to get a birth certificate. You use a birth certificate to get a Social Security card. We need to shorten the number of acceptable documents, make that uniform across the states, and then provide intensive training for fraudulent document inspectors. 

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the problem that really is faced every day by front-line employees in the DMVs: there are over 240 different valid forms of the driver’s license in this country and Canada. Who could keep track of the real ones, much less the fake ones? I’ve seen a couple of numbers. I’ve used the lower one — 6,000 different versions of the birth certificate  in the U.S. issued by local and county governments, 27 different INS identity cards, 40 different versions of the Social Security card out there today.

We also think that the DRIVerS system should interface with the Social Security Administration, INS, vital statistics, birth and death records, FBI and other agencies to enhance the ability to verify identity. 

Sixth, ensure greater enforcement priority and increased penalty for credential fraud. Internal fraud is a big problem in motor vehicle agencies. They on the one hand produce a lot of revenues for the states. On the other hand, the front-line employees are among the lowest paid in state government and are ripe for fraud. We really need to, first, have better internal audits, better quality control, and then ratchet up the penalties for internal fraud.

I mentioned the availability over the Internet of counterfeit documents. They’re also readily available in the underground market. We’ve all seen too many stories of teenagers obtaining counterfeit licenses, purchasing alcohol, and really tragic results.

Seven, what we’re doing right now is seeking federal requirements for legislation. AAMVA is not a regulatory body. We operate under self-regulation. We promote standards, best practices, uniformity. We have no enforcement power. Self-regulation is really difficult if your goal is to get 100 percent compliance from the states. Without 100 percent participation, the driver’s license framework is going to continue to be full of loopholes. Therefore, for the first time since 1933 this organization is seeking a federal partnership.

A couple bills out there right now. The Durbin  bill, we worked with Senator Durbin, providing technical advice since the fall. There was a hearing April 16th. We participated along with a number of other stakeholders — governors, chiefs of police, state chief information officers, and others. We understand that a draft will be out, if not introduced, in the near future, likely to be co-sponsored by Senators Collins and Schumer. It would improve the reliability of the license, enhance highway safety, verify personal identity, would establish DRIVerS, would require the DOT Secretary to work with the states through AAMVA to set minimum standards, would require audits of the DMV’s to determine compliance with regulations. 

The Secretary of DOT would submit a biannual report on these audit results. It would require the states to participate in a compact, the Driver's License Agreement — I understand I'm running out of time — would amend the Driver Privacy and Protection Act. 

Jeff Flake introduced legislation that passed the Immigration Subcommittee barring federal agencies from accepting a driver’s license from states that don’t match the expiration date of the immigration documents to the license. The Moran-Davis bill would require computer chips to be embedded in the card. 

A recent survey implemented by AAMVA indicates that 77 percent of respondents favor Congressional action to modify the licensing process and heighten security. Opposition to federal legislation comes from privacy advocates who fear a national ID card and invasion of privacy, immigrants’ rights groups, and state organizations concerned about states’ rights, federalization of the state-issued driver's license.

We think we will have reached success when public perception of our goals is positive, we have support from federal and state officials, the appropriations necessary to make this happen are awarded, we have nationwide participation and the passage of federal legislation.

Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Tom. Bob?


MR. RECTOR: What I’m going to speak about today outlines some of the recommendations that the Heritage Foundation has made in its counterterrorism work over the last 6 months. But let me begin by just making two very simple points that are often lost in this debate.

The first is that a nation with 7 million illegal immigrants is a nation that is wide open to devastating terrorism. A nation that makes no serious effort to discern whether people are in the nation legally or illegally and essentially allows with virtually no counteracting effort whatsoever people to come into the country and pretend to be here legally, and that has no mechanism, no viable mechanism for discerning whether or not they are here legally, is a nation that simply does not take terrorism seriously, and I think that's the situation that we are in as a nation today.

The second fundamental problem is, or the second fundamental point, is how many of you -- would you raise your hand if you have a driver’s license on you?

(A show of hands.)

How many of you use a driver’s license for routine sort of business activities, like opening up bank accounts or renting an apartment? Have you ever used one like that? 

(A show of hands.)

The reality is, gee, you’re all carrying government ID. We don’t have a national ID system. We have a 50-state ID system. I didn’t really fully understand this until I found out that in fact all of the 50 states issue driver’s IDs to people who are not drivers. If you’re not a driver, if you're medically impaired and you can't drive, you can't function in our society without one of these ID cards, so the states will issue you a non-driver’s driver’s ID so that you can function.

The state governments are totally in the business of issuing government IDs and no lawful citizen can get by in our society without these ID cards, and if you took them away we would simply collapse. You couldn’t do ordinary business. You couldn’t go to the bank. You couldn’t rent a car — all of these things.

But we have to have some ID system to do that. Fortunately, while this ID system works fairly well and is not a threat to most lawful people, it’s also an ID system which is perfectly amenable and useful to anyone who wants to commit fraud. It's simply not any mechanism for stopping people who want to come into the United States, pretend to be someone that they're not, and then do something grievously harmful to American citizens.

So we have effectively a 50-state ID system. We use it. We anticipate that it in fact validates ID. When you use an ID or when you’ve seen someone presenting an ID at an airport or something, you have an implicit assumption that this is in fact telling the airline something, that this person is who he purports to be.

But it doesn’t do that at all. In fact, it’s almost specifically designed not to do that. If you want to get around it, get a false ID and pretend to be someone that you’re not. No problem; it’s designed to facilitate that. 

So what I would like to outline here just very briefly — and my remarks will be very similar to those that Mr. Wolfsohn outlined, although somewhat simpler — what would an ID system, a 50-state ID system that would deter terrorism and would prevent the use of false IDs, what would that look like? I would call this a secure fraud-proof identity system. We have an identity system now. The question is can this identity system be made fraud-resistant or fraud-proof, or do we just want to have an ID system that basically could be exploited by anyone who wants to have a fraudulent identification.

The first element of a secure identity system is what I would call tripod-based identity cards. There are three elements to this. The first element is a card that has on the card some type of an electronically readable biometric identifier. Let’s just use a fingerprint now, but it could be a digitized photo or something like that. So that’s the first element of the tripod.

The second element of the tripod is your actual fingerprint. The third element of the tripod is an electronic database that says indeed there is such a person with this name who has this ID and who has this fingerprint. So when you go to present your ID at some point, like say an airport, you put it in, you use the biometric identifier, you put your fingerprint down, it says: Aha, the fingerprint does indeed match the card and the card matches the electronic database. 

Is this farfetched? No, this is in fact the system that the Army and the military already have this system and it works quite, quite well. It is impossible to use a purely counterfeit ID using that kind of system because you not only have to produce the ID, you have to go in and somehow modify the electronic database at the same time, so that you’re altering that. That’s going to be very, very hard for someone to do. This is a very, very good system and it is a system that we will ultimately adopt. The question is whether we adopt it soon or whether we wait until several radiological bombs go off in downtown D.C. and then we decide that maybe we ought to do something serious about his kind of stuff.

The first point that we have recommended is that all visas for people coming into the United States should be based on this technology, all visas. That in and of itself is an amazing deterrent factor. What this would mean is that if you were applying for a visa to come into the United States at the application process we’re going to take your fingerprint and we’re going to take a digitized photo of you.

I wonder how many members of al Qaeda are interested in the application process of coming in and having the United States government take their fingerprints and a digitized photo of them. I think in and of itself that is a massive deterrent to international terrorism. Since we would be requiring other nations also to use these sorts of systems in terms of visas coming into the United States, it would have a similar deterrent effect that would spread widely.

Secondly, we think that the internal driver’s license, if it’s to have any validity, or the state-issued license also, ought to have this tripod base of the biometric identifier and linked into a computer system so that you can determine that it is in fact a valid license rather than something that has been printed off in somebody's basement someplace.

If you are comfortable with getting on planes  with people that have ID’s printed in someone’s basement, fine. But I think that is probably not where we need to go in the future.

Now, that would ensure that in fact each ID that is used in the United States for purposes such as renting a car, renting an apartment, and getting on an airplane would have to be a valid ID that matches up against an electronic database and prevents fraud. Now, the second tier of defense then is to prevent people from obtaining such IDs under fraudulent premises. I’ll just go into how we think this could be done in terms of a driver’s license or similar state-issued ID.

To sort of simplify the point here, what we think is that anyone who comes in to get a driver’s license or similar state ID should need to present either a valid fraud-proof visa or a birth certificate demonstrating or a naturalization certificate demonstrating citizenship. That is two categories of people. Anybody that can’t do either of those things shouldn't be getting an ID, a state-issued ID, because they shouldn’t be here.

The problem then is with the birth certificates, which are fairly easy to duplicate and they’re fairly difficult to verify that they’re in fact authentic. There’s a fairly simple step, I think, to double check on that, which is when someone presents a birth certificate to obtain a driver's license you would have to go back to the initial issuing agency, which I gather is not done in most states, and say, okay, here’s Sam Jones, he says that he was born in Chattanooga in 1962; was there in fact a Sam Jones born in Chattanooga? This is heavy stuff here. Is there actually such a person? 

Then you find out that there was such a person, and then I think you need a secondary check that would say, well, has Sam Jones currently got a driver’s license someplace else? How many Sam Joneses do we have in the United States that were born in Chattanooga on this date and have this Social Security number? That secondary check would make it much more difficult for someone to try to piggyback onto an authentic U.S. citizen pretending to be that person with a fraudulent birth certificate in order to get a duplicate, to get a license.

I also think that this is sort of self-auditing electronically, that if you go through and you can electronically — and this requires making additional databases or making the databases interface better, but if you could say, here’s a person who has applied for a driver’s license, we're now double checking against the birth records to indicate that this person was in fact born where he is, and now we’re double checking other records to see whether in fact there’s a Sam Jones in some other state who appears over there, and if you also — you could make the photographs available and shared in the database and now you could see whether the Sam Jones who was applying for a driver's license in New York looks like he same Sam Jones who has used that birth certificate to apply and obtain a driver’s license at previous points in other states.

It would be able to be audited fairly easily and I think would also take away a lot of the potential for internal fraud. 

What you would have then with a system like that is that everyone in the United States who carries one of the government IDs which we’re all carrying, we would have a system for verifying that that person was in fact who he claims to be, was in fact someone who is lawfully in the United States, and was not here unlawfully, and that when that person uses that government-issued ID for any type of transaction we would have a much greater sense that in fact the ID was valid.

The whole point of an ID is that it’s supposed to give external assurance that when you present it you are in fact the individual that is on the card and that you have some lawful status in this country that is in some sense recorded by that card.

Although we have a government ID system, our current government ID system simply does not do that and because it does not it leaves us very vulnerable to all kinds of horrible things that will potentially take American lives and devastate our economy in ways that are currently unimaginable. I think that we have to move forward with this type of system. It is not as complicated as I think it seems on the surface. I think that it’s inevitable that our nation will have this, and people that say that we won't or shouldn't are sort of like the people that resisted having photos on driver’s IDs in the first place, which there was resistance to that. 

It’s absolutely essential if we are to take the war against terrorism seriously that we be able to discern whether or not someone is in our country lawfully and that we be able to take serious steps to prevent people from entering unlawfully and moving around this country when they should not be here.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bob.

Let me take the moderator's prerogative and just ask the first question. That is, the apparent conflict between the fact that, for instance, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has made very strong recommendations on document security and, on the other hand, some of the legislation that Tom pointed to is sponsored, to the extent there are Republican co-sponsors at all, seem to be liberal Republicans. There doesn’t seem to be in Congress a conservative constituency for secure documentation, and in fact, Congressman Barr led the effort to repeal the measures passed in 1996.

I was just wondering if somebody wanted to comment on how this gets done because of this apparent lack of enthusiasm among Republicans for secure documentation.

MR. RECTORWhat you have now apparently among conservatives is a kind of schizophrenia on this issue, where you could find the same individual who is absolutely adamant about not wanting illegal aliens to come in and issuing fraudulent documents to illegal aliens and adamant about the dangers of international terrorism, I am not going to name any names here, but at the same time has great paranoia about a national ID card.

I think that the issue here is really one of knowledge. I really think that the first and foremost important thing for a rational discussion on this is to go back to that point I made, that the states issue ID cards to American citizens who are not drivers. They are already more than hip-deep in the process of issuing identity cards. It's not necessary that the federal government do this. In fact, its not feasible that the federal government do it. But it is, I think, necessary for the federal government to coordinate certain minimum standards, so that the ID cards which we all use and which we find absolutely necessary to our lives are, in fact, real ID cards and cannot be exploited by people who want to hurt us in a very routine and simple way, that the ID card does in fact establish lawful residence, does establish that the person is someone who should be here, an individual who he purports to be by carrying the card.

Once its put in those terms, I think a lot of the polarization on the issue will dissipate. But I don’t think we’ve advanced our knowledge and understanding of the issue far enough so far.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Questions? Please identify yourself.

MR. McALPIN: I'm K.C. McAlpin. I just wanted to ask from the perspective of someone outside the country who who wanted to come into the country, engage in identity fraud, or some foreign terrorists that wanted to come into the United States to cause havoc, could you design a better and more compliant system for them than the system we already have so far as driver’s licenses and the identity documents we’ve been talking about?

In other words, what I’m trying to ask in the question is, as I see it there’s absolutely no practical deterrence at all. I’m reminded about this when I go across the street from the building I work in and they ask me for my driver’s license going into the building, which is a security measure, and yet I’m perfectly aware of how completely easy it would be for a terrorist to walk in that building with a driver’s license and plant a bomb there. So that it’s really just a harassment type of thing, the value that that has, because of the lack of control.

It just seems to me it would be mind-boggling when we have such a completely open system that is so easily abused by people.

MR. KRIKORIAN: What’s the question, K.C.?

MR. McALPIN: The question is, I guess the real question is, do you see — the public seems to be in favor of even going to a national ID. In the polls that I saw, they say this hesitancy in Congress to do something is not matched. The public understands, like I do, perfectly well that threats exist to their safety and wellbeing. Why is there still this reluctance in Congress to move forward on the issues?

MR. RECTOR: If the fundamental question is does the current visa and ID system offer any actual deterrence to people coming into the country fraudulently, I think the answer is absolutely not. There are many other problems in terms of border security, but I think that it’s almost a pure accident if you catch someone coming into the United States on a fraudulent visa. We do it, but if you actually look at the cases and things it's because the border guard said: Hey, he looked really nervous. There's no real system there. That was the guy who was going to blow up—


MR. RECTOR: He looked nervous. Well, that’s nice. I’m glad that the border guard was alert enough to notice that the guy looked nervous. Maybe we can do a little better. Marti?

MS. DINERSTEIN: Let me just amplify what Robert just said. The INS estimates that 40 percent of the people that are here illegally came in on visas, so at least they were legal at one point. 60 percent of the people here illegally are basically border jumpers. They came in, no one ever knew their name.

Increasingly, because of human smuggling and the brilliant criminal thinking that goes into it, people are getting into our ports, etcetera, and it’s a huge problem. So I totally agree that we should do everything that we need to to tighten up on visas. But some of the things that we talked about earlier in terms of protecting against things once people are here, that is really equally important.

MR. WOLFSOHN: I think the concern in Congress probably is centered around three different issues: one, concern really on the left and the right about creation of a national identification system, about potential invasion of privacy; two, concern about the rights of immigrants; and three, concern about states’ rights and the "federalization," quote unquote, of the state-issued driver’s license.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? Yes.

MR. HOPKINS: Scot Hopkins. I work for Congressman Bartlett.

One of the famous maxims in Social Security is that your security system is only as strong as its weakest  link, and I see we’ve talked about a lot of legislation that’s before the Congress in terms of driver's licenses, but one of the primary documents that you use to get a driver’s license, which can be very secure through federal legislation, is a birth certificate and we haven’t talked at all about any legislation regarding standardization or some sort of system that would create a highly integrated method of making sure that birth certificates are in fact real and can be used to get driver’s licenses.

What would your recommendation be in that area?

MS. DINERSTEIN: I would advise Congress to go back and look at the law that was passed in 1996 where they did do that. But there has been little follow-up. Congress has a short attention span, and if it’s not -- and I don’t mean that with any disrespect; they’ve got a  lot of things that they need to do. I think follow-up is a problem. Also what’s a big problem is that the INS was designated as the lead agency to follow through on what Congress authorized. But we can talk later if you’d like specifics, but basically a lot of it is there. It just has never been implemented.

MR. RECTOR: I think that some of the discussion on this is to try to create a more fraud-resistant physical birth certificate. I think that is really — and I can stand to be corrected on this, but I think that's  really not the key issue. The more important issue is the one that I said, that when you present a birth certificate in order to get a more usable document, which is the driver's license, there is no check to say is this for real.

In order to do that, the details I don’t fully understand, but you need to have a database that you can  check it against. Then you also have to be able to check it against death records to make sure that they didn’t go into a graveyard and find, aha, here’s somebody that’s about my age and they died; now I’ll use their birth certificate. You also have to be able to go and see how many other people are claiming to be this person and are currently walking around with driver’s license claiming to be this same person. That’s the way that you make the birth certificate more valid, I think, by this double checking against other databases to make sure that there, one, was a person like that; two, that the person is still alive as far as we can determine; and three, that this person is not a lawful resident across the country someplace else carrying a driver’s license and if you look at his photograph he doesn’t look anything like the person that’s currently attempting to use this date of birth in order to get a driver’s license.

MR. WOLFSOHN: Birth certificates, vital statistics are under the jurisdiction of local government, municipal and county government. Over the years in those jurisdictions they have produced currently valid between, depending on who you listen to, 6,000 to 7500 different forms of the birth certificate. Almost everywhere, they’re on different kinds of systems, all the way from paper up to various forms of electronic information systems.

Birth and death records are not coordinated. Every day there are people out there that are looking at  the death notices and they assume the identity of dead people. There is an organization working on this. It’s the — the acronym is N-A-P-H-S-I-S, “NAPHSIS.” I think it’s National Association of Public Health Information Systems.

MS. DINERSTEIN: Something. I have it in my files.

MR. WOLFSOHN: Anyway, working to get their arms around this huge problem. Also, the state of Iowa chief information officer is working on a system there in that state that may well become a model for the other states to get their arms around this problem.

MS. DINERSTEIN: National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems.

MR. WOLFSOHN: Go to their web site.


VOICE: Hi. I’m (inaudible). I work with the National Conference of State Legislators. My members are very concerned about a lot of the proposals that are being kicked around, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about how much this will cost. Right now the Flake bill proposes hat there will be grants given to states, but there’s no dollar figure, there's no authorization language. The Moran bill proposes what we consider a very small amount of money for the states to be able to use to implement  this. Also, they say that the Department of Transportation, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, will be able to determine how much and where this money is given. That leaves us in a bind financially or could leave us in a bind financially. 

Could you speak to that?

MR. WOLFSOHN: Our proposal we estimate will cost between $280 and $360 million, primarily to develop and implement the Driver Record Information and Verification System DRIVerS, to create cards with the security features on them, the biometrics and the security features. 

We are a state government organization. We would not support any legislation unless there were provisions for the funding and the development and then the mechanism for the states through AAMVA to work with the Department of Transportation to develop these minimum standards. Again, that would be a floor, not a ceiling. We think the states should determine beyond that where they want to go with these cards. They are state-issued documents. 

VOICE: Didn’t AAMVA support the Moran bill?

MR. WOLFSOHN: We did. It’s one of our best  practices, and we’re currently working with the Immigration Subcommittee to come up with recommendations on how it could be implemented and how much it will cost, what the amount of the grants need to be and what they need to be for.

MS. GONZALEZ: Hello. My name is Maribel Gonzalez. I’m correspondent for Reforma, a Mexican  newspaper. As a foreigner, I wanted to let you know from outside when you come to this country it’s like you can’t understand what all this debate about having an ID, a national identification card. When you get a credit card, you get anything, they know everything about you here. I mean, they know even more than they should, I guess. Everybody gets the information once you have a credit history. It’s so easy for anybody to get all kinds of data about people.

So I really don’t understand what's the problem in having one federal document that is the same for everyone, and it’s going to be easier for anybody else to know if it’s a real one, instead of having not 50, but so many local IDs, plus all the state IDs. That's something I don’t understand, but that’s just a comment.

The other thing is what would you do with that illegal community you were talking about if you don’t give them driver’s licenses because to get a driver's license you have to pass an exam. If you don’t give them a driver’s license, maybe in New York, maybe in this city you can just use the transportation system that’s available. In many other parts of this country you cannot  move without a car. So these people are going to drive without having a driver’s license, without passing the exam. It’s going to be even more dangerous.

I don’t understand, what do you plan to do? These people are not going to be disappearing. What are you going to do?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, let me take an initial whack at it and then I’ll let the speakers. What would happen is if illegals didn't have driver’s licenses and continued to drive, then as they were detained by the police they would be arrested and deported in a sort of an attrition, if you will, rather than the image of all 8 million illegal aliens being deported all at once, which is not realistic. It is not going to happen.

In fact, part of the realistic approach to dealing with illegal immigration is through attrition, is to gradually decrease the number of illegal aliens and decreasing the number of new people coming in, so that over time the number will decline over time. Denying driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is actually part of such a strategy, because then as they were arrested by state or local authorities for driving without a driver’s license, because they were illegal aliens then they would be deported a little bit at a time, rather than all at once.

Anybody else who wants to take a whack?

MR. RECTOR: Yes. I think this is half of the issue. The reason that we are in this current dilemma is fundamentally that there’s a large lobbying structure in the United States that wants illegal immigrants here, that finds them economically useful. When we had the legislation passed in the late nineties that was designed to try to begin to get that under control by tightening up the ID systems, essentially what we had was a lobbying effort that said: No, we do not want as a nation to be able to determine whether someone is here legally or not; we do not want our state ID systems to make that discrimination; we want a system of continued kind of counterfeit IDs, because if we don’t have that then we’re suddenly going to have this huge population that will become manifest that they’re here illegally.

That was not a very good resolution of the basic dilemmas of immigration. It sort of skirts the whole problem.

Secondly, when that collides now with national security and terrorism issues, now you have a truly ludicrous system where we have a system that’s specifically designed more or less to, in a de facto sense, permit people to enter and remain in the United States illegally, which is what we’ve got now, it’s designed to facilitate that or simply not to make it a major problem, and when you marry that system with the existence of al Qaeda and the al Qaeda’s of the future, you’ve got a huge, huge problem.

When you go, as we ultimately will, to a system that allows the government to determine in a practical way whether or not someone is here legally and thereby makes it clear who is here unlawfully, we will then have to deal  with the larger issue of immigration, of how many of the current illegals which play a very key part in our employee, which many industries really want them here — we’ll have to begin to deal with that in an above-board and rational manner.

But right at the moment we basically have swept that issue under the rug and said we don’t want to know who’s here illegally because, boy, that would really raise wage rates at Hyatt Regency and things like that. So we don’t want to know about that.  I think in the long term we can’t continue to skirt and obfuscate that issue. We need to for national security purposes be able to determine whether or not someone who is here is here lawfully, and we need to be able to pick up in a much readier way those people who entered the country illegally and pose a potential threat.

MR. WOLFSOHN: I hear that argument often, that  states and provinces should issue driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens so that society will be assured that they do know how to drive, that they know how to follow he rules of the road, and that they obtain insurance. I also hear from others that the ability to obtain automobile insurance is not predicated on having a driver’s license; it’s only predicated on having title to an automobile, and the driving schools are open to people who actually don’t have a license usually by definition.

I also hear from some administrators anecdotally that actually more undocumented aliens apply for state ID cards rather than driver’s licenses. The driver’s license is a legal document. It’s issued by the state or provincial government to law-abiding citizens for the purpose of driving. So I think another question, public policy question that is being debated, is should these public agencies provide individuals who are breaking federal law, violating federal law, with the means to facilitate that?

Certainly, once an undocumented alien has a driver’s license there really is essentially no more need to have valid immigration documents. Once they have that they can essentially disappear into society. 

A third argument that I hear is that the states and provinces should issue a permit strictly for driving, but that on the license it clearly says “This is for driving purposes only; this is not to be used as a form of identification.” But I hear other people saying that that is discriminatory.

MR. RECTOR: I think one other version of that would be, if the driving issue is really key, then fine, why don’t we just issue driver’s licenses, but make it very clear on the front this is an illegal alien. Somehow I don’t think that's going to pass muster, and the reason for that is that driving is not the key issue here. The key issue here is that the issuance of the driver's license allows someone to adopt camouflage, to pretend to be a lawful resident when they are not, and that's the whole purpose of why they need the ID. If you had an ID that said “This is an illegal alien who can drive,” it doesn’t really serve that purpose very well, does it?

But if you want to compromise, yes, great, we can do that. But that's really not the issue. I think you really have to — we really are running into a major national security problem until we can unravel the question of the large number of non-legal laborers in our economy, the business interests that want them here vis a vis the national security concerns, which are really at a completely different course, and that those two vectors of policy are in stark contradiction and they are, I think, in the long term putting all people in America, legal and non-legal residents, in serious long-term risk. 

MR. WOLFSOHN: I don’t think we addressed the first part of your question. Actually, in this country the relationship of the states to the central government is really different than it is in Mexico. There’s a long tradition of states’ rights in this country. 

Secondly, I do want to make a point that Visa, MasterCard, Giant, Safeway know a lot more about you than your local DMV.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Before I take the last question, I just wanted to point out in the context of driver’s licenses, my mother-in-law has a driver’s license and that doesn’t mean she can drive or it is no guarantee that anyone’s safety is going to be improved because illegal aliens will get driver’s licenses. I just — if she’s reading this, please ignore that. 

Just one last question, please. Yes, sir.

MR. BERNSTEIN: I’m Josh Bernstein for the National Immigration Law Center. 

Don’t you think that it’s unfair and also dangerous to equate immigrants and terrorists, even immigrants and terrorists? Also, a related question is, don't you think that really determined and sophisticated terrorists are going to figure out a way to get around most of the reasonable schemes you may adopt, whereas the people who will be caught up are sort of the law-abiding run-of-the-mill immigrants?

I guess that brings me to the question of whether you — many of you; I know many of you actually — whether your agenda is really an immigrant agenda or really a driver’s license or a national ID or terrorist agenda. Particularly, I am surprised to see AAMVA supporting an anti-immigrant stand.


MS. DINERSTEIN: A couple of things. Because I worry about that and I try to be very careful about that, but there are two things. One, immigrant advocates have been very successful in blurring the distinction between those in the country legally and those in the you illegally, and that's been a disservice. We need to, all of us, begin to make that distinction very clear.

With respect to the ID documents that I have talked about, no one in the country legally has a problem with those ID documents. They can get those ID documents.

So the problem is illegal immigrants. What percentage of them — 99.5 percent of them here mean us no harm, but they are doing harm, as I said before, because the documents have no integrity because of heir need for them. So it is melded into, it has become a national security issue.

MR. WOLFSOHN: Well, Josh, those are your words, that the AAMVA is advocating an anti-immigration policy. That’s not the case. Our recommendation is that nonresidents be treated in a uniform manner, that elected officials, the INS, people who have responsibility to deal with this, deal with it, and then we will attempt to issue the licenses and ID cards in a fair and uniform manner. Our thrust has been highway safety and identity fraud for years. We’re still there. But the events of 9/11 have propelled us onto another platform.

MR. RECTOR: This is really a border security  issue and it was a border security issue even before September 11th. You have to separate out questions of public policy on immigration with questions of public policy on illegal immigration. You can be very strongly pro-immigration and feel that in fact the country ought to be able to control who comes in and who does not come in.

Illegal immigration is simply a situation where the country has no de facto control over who is coming in and who is residing here or has effectively abdicated this control. Then when that is compounded with September 11th, you can recognize that you have a very serious situation. A country with effectively totally open borders, which is what this nation has, is not a nation that is well prepared to fight international terrorism.

So even prior to September 11th I felt, and I believe that the majority of citizens feel, that the United States ought to be able to determine who can and cannot reside in the country lawfully and ought to be able to prevent millions of people from residing here unlawfully if we don't want them here.

I do think that if we come forward with a new identification system, as we put that in place that in fact one of the side effects of that would be that we would in fact convert a substantial portion of the illegal immigrants over into some kind of lawful status, not necessarily permanent residents, but something. 

I don’t think anybody has ever been really comfortable with the idea of, well, we haven’t quite decided what the immigration policy will be, so we’ll basically let people come in, but we’ll harass them a little bit as they come over the border and we’ll send them back and they can try a second and third time until they get in. It’s a very silly system and when you compound that with the fact that some of the people, a small number but still some of the people, who are coming in here are coming in here with the intention of utterly destroying our society. You wait until — you think we had an economic meltdown after September 11th. You wait until we have a prospect that people routinely can plant radiological weapons in our cities and people are panicking and starting to flee the cities because this is  a potential threat that we have no response to. We have not even seen the beginning of this problem.

So on your second point, if you had a good ID system could terrorists circumvent it, to a degree. But if you accept that as a principle, that you don’t adopt any defense unless it’s 100 percent effective, then you would have no defense. Then you would have tanks with no armor because the armor is not 100 percent effective. But if the armor is effective 80 percent of the time, it makes a much more secure system.

This system that we've talked about here today would make it much more difficult for someone to come into the United States under a false ID. It would make it much more difficult for someone to come into the United States illegally and move around using false IDs. Clearly, the ability to use false IDs was essential to September 11th. It would also make it illegal for people to come into the United States and essentially just — or make it much more difficult for people to come in on a temporary visa and effectively just stay here, which is another long-term issue.

Now, you also raised a question about is it fair to equate terrorists with immigration. No, that’s not really the case. But I do think you can equate terrorists largely with non-citizens. I think that we have a  reasonable expectation that most of the terrorist threat in this country in the future will involve non-citizens coming to our country.

If we ratchet that down, then they will probably begin to recruit from within citizen ranks. You cannot 100 percent stop it, but you can make it a lot more difficult. It will be a lot more difficult if you can in some way limit the ability of terrorists to easily enter our country, either lawfully or unlawfully, and then they’d have to go around and recruit among naturalized citizens. Can they do it? Yes. Is it 30 or 40 times more difficult than the current situation? Yes, and that’s exactly what you want to do. You want to make it as difficult as you can for people to come, for people who want to inflict massive damage on our society to do that. Having a completely open border, which is what we have now, is really not compatible with making the job of terrorists difficult. 

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Bob, and thank you to our other speakers. If you have more questions, feel free to come up. If you want to rush out and get to your cars and flee the city and get away from radiological weapons, feel free to do so.

Thanks a lot.