The hottest controversy in state legislatures today regards allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses. Americans were shocked to discover that most of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 carried driver's licenses from Virginia, Florida or New Jersey.
A driver's license is the pass to board a plane, as well as the license to a drive car. It confers a sort of quasi-citizenship and, as described by one illegal alien in Texas, "The driver's license ends up becoming our pass to be in this country."
Since 9/11, 21 states have enacted new legislation to make it harder to get driver's licenses, and legislation has been introduced in another 22 states. Even in Idaho, State Sen. Cecil Ingram told a public hearing, "This has turned out to be a bigger problem than I thought."
The states embarrassed by the 9/11 hijackers have gotten the message. Virginia passed a bill to stop issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens, and Florida and New Jersey passed legislation to coordinate driver's licenses with immigration visas.
New Jersey, where driver's licenses have been made of paper and do not require a photo, has long been the target of document fraud and counterfeiters. The state is now converting to state-of-the-art digitized driver's licenses with a dozen covert and overt security features, including a mandatory photo, bar code, hologram and digital signature.
Peter Gadiel, whose 23-year-old son James died in the World Trade Center attack, has traveled from Connecticut to Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee to support beefed-up identification laws. Twenty states do not require applicants to prove they are legally in the United States.
Tennessee, another state known to be casual about issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens, is considering a measure that would require driver's license applicants to present a document showing they are legally in this country. A Tennessee legislative committee also heard testimony about the need to tighten driver's license rules from April Gallop, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
Minnesota is trying to address the controversy through rule-making by the Department of Public Safety. The proposed rule would require visitors to present documents to prove they are in the country legally, and the license would expire when their visas expire.
Georgia would seem an unlikely state for immigration controversies, but an estimated 435,000 Hispanics live in Georgia, a 300 percent increase over 1990, according to the U.S. Census. A lively, big group showed up at a hearing in Gainesville from the town of Hall, where at least 19 percent of the population is Hispanic and 85 percent of those are not citizens.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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