Your papers, please

Today, Jiménez and Krikorian debate the Real ID law. Previously, they weighed the positives and negatives of tougher enforcement, assessed the presidential candidates' immigration credentials and determined whether restrictionists have reason to be satisfied with their efforts. They'll conclude their debate tomorrow by discussing the future of immigration reform.

Do you want more unlicensed drivers?

The Real ID Act of 2005 created a uniform set of standards for state-issued driver's licenses and IDs required for entering federal facilities, boarding airplanes and entering nuclear power plants. What may appear to be a reasonable plan has lots of devilish details that do nothing to change our broken immigration system while making life miserable for states and American drivers. In fact, 17 states have already rejected Real ID because of the costs and problems related to it.

The law is partly designed to ensure that terrorists can't harm us by requiring all individuals applying for a driver's license to show proof of identity and legal residency. The logic goes like this: If the terrorists can't get ID cards, and people without a standardized ID can't get on planes or enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants, then we are preventing terrorists from hitting us again. But this assumes a lot about the relationship between undocumented immigration and terrorism. It also assumes that we know whether someone is a terrorist or not.

Let's imagine that Real ID was in place on 9/11. Would it have prevented the 19 hijackers from boarding those four planes? No. The hijackers had legal documentation that would have allowed them to get driver's licenses even under the provisions of Real ID. Terrorist organizations are vast, complex, highly trained and well funded. They have the resources and know-how to make some of the best forged documents in the world or recruit people who can get valid documents. This is not to say that we should just give up, but we certainly shouldn't be fooled into thinking that new documents are going to fully protect us.

Only adding to the ridiculousness of the law is the fact that we'll end up having to trust DMV workers to make important national security decisions, like whether or not someone's documents are valid. If you think waiting in line at the DMV is bad now, wait until you have to get your Real ID.

Real ID is not going to solve our immigration problems either. Requiring proof of legal residency for a Real ID doesn't mean that undocumented immigrants will stop driving or "self deport." Only seven states allow undocumented immigrants to have a license, and yet undocumented immigration continues. The Real ID law does allow states the option of issuing licenses solely for the use of driving, but licenses must clearly state the limits of their use. Since only those without legal documentation are likely to ask for such a "driver's license-only card," these licenses might as well have "undocumented immigrant" emblazoned on them. Talk about a disincentive.

Wouldn't we actually be safer if more, not fewer people had a driver's license? Of course we would. A license certifies that an individual has taken a driver's training course and has met a minimum standard of driving know-how. Unlicensed drivers, on the other hand, have no formal training and are thus generally more dangerous behind the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, unlicensed drivers are five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than unlicensed drivers. So much for keeping us safe.

Furthermore, unlicensed drivers are uninsured, raising premiums for the rest of us. States that have expanded access to driver's licenses regardless of legal status have seen dramatic improvements in the rate of insurance coverage. New Mexico reduced its uninsured rate from 33% in 2002 to just 10.6% in 2007. Likewise, Utah reduced the proportion of uninsured drivers from 10% in 1998 to 5.1% in 2007.

In the end, we have a law that thickens the bureaucratic process involved in getting a license and does nothing to change our broken immigration system. In fact, this effort at protection may very well wind up accomplishing quite the opposite.

Tomás R. Jiménez is an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Diego and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

I want my Real ID


Every modern society requires a system of identification — there's simply no way to avoid that in a large, urbanized nation where few people live and work in the same community with the same neighbors their whole lives.

In most countries, that need for ID is filled by the central government with some form of national identification card. America's more decentralized experience has led to a different result — a patchwork system of state driver's licenses serving as our de facto national ID system.

The goal of the Real ID Act is to set some minimum federal standards for this decentralized arrangement, like requiring that states verify the identity and legal status of people being issued licenses (and you thought we did that already!). This is in part to avoid the need for a national ID card, which would not only be costly and time-consuming to set up from scratch, but is also fiercely opposed by many Americans. The 9/11 Commission called for such federal standards, noting that, among other things, seven of the IDs obtained by the 9/11 hijackers were obtained using false claims of residence in Virginia. The Real ID Act was an outgrowth of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, buttressed by input from the American Assn. of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Opposition to these common-sense standards comes from two sources, one legitimate, one not. First, some states are whining about money, concocting hilariously inflated cost estimates for compliance with the new law. Congress has responded by stretching out the deadlines somewhat and providing some additional funding for genuine state needs — this makes perfect sense.

The second objection to the law's standards comes from those who want to ensure that illegal immigrants are able to continue embedding themselves in American society. Thus, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants serve as a form of de facto amnesty for illegals, incorporating them into the institutions of our society and making any congressional action on legalization a mere formality.

Making amnesty a fait accompli is also the rationale behind the Mexican government's push to have its illegal-immigrant ID card, the Matricula Consular, recognized by as many banks and police departments s possible.

Denying ID to those who have no right to be here isn't some magic bullet that will make all illegals go home overnight. But it is critical to any larger strategy to that end. By making it as hard as possible to live here illegally — combined with more conventional enforcement measures such as fencing and worksite verification — we can, in fact, reduce illegal settlement and increase the number of illegals who give up and go home. Sí, se puede!

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and author of the forthcoming book, "The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal."

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