The Corner

Licenses For Illegals?

Congressional negotiators have agreed to keep the Real ID Act in the emergency Iraq appropriations bill, which should be voted on in the House tomorrow and the Senate next week. The most important element seeks to bar illegal aliens from getting drivers licenses. Unfortunately, the version that is likely to pass contains a loophole that would allow states to issue two kinds of drivers licenses–the regular kind, that illegals couldn’t get, and thus would be acceptable for federally mandated uses like boarding airplanes or entering nuclear power plants, and a second version, usually called a “driving certificate,” which wouldn’t require the applicant to prove he’s in the country legally, but which would have to indicate something like “Not for identification purposes” on the front. Of the 11 states that allow illegals to get licenses, Tennessee and Utah already do it this way, and the danger, as I see it, is that this loophole will be taken by the states as a cue from Washington, and we could end up with more and more states doing it, states that otherwise wouldn’t have issued illegals any kind of license at all.

The problem with this approach is twofold: First, any kind of official documentation provided to people who aren’t supposed to be here helps incorporate them into our institutions and is one more step toward amnesty; and second, despite any disclaimers printed on the illegals-only licenses, they will inevitably end up being accepted for identification purposes anyway. This is what we saw in Tennessee, where the certificates say “Not valid for ID” right on the front, but which the state police said from the get-go that they would just accept as ID anyway.

I debated the head of the immigration lawyers guild (“Jihad Jeannie” Butterfield) last night on the NewsHour, and she gave all the usual talking points against the bill, but I don’t understand why the open-borders crowd is fighting it–the two-tier license loophole is their best shot at providing documents for illegals across the country and thus taking a big step toward a de facto amnesty. Maybe they’re just following Jefferson’s advice when Britain transferred Florida back to Spain in 1784–object just enough to make your enemies think you oppose the move, but not enough to stop it, since it’s in your interests to let it continue.

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