Your driver's license, which is the closest thing the United States has to a national identification card, just became less valuable as a means of identifying who you are and as a tool for law enforcement.
In the purest example of political pandering in recent memory, California Gov. Gray Davis has taken one giant step in achieving a California amnesty for illegal aliens by signing a bill that enables illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses. The law is set to become effective in January 2004.
Americans should understand what this means. After decades of the states' departments of motors vehicles moving closer to uniform licensing standards that would permit full reciprocity across the U.S., California has decided that it is willing to adopt what is arguably the country's most permissive standard for issuing driver's licenses. The bill recently signed by Davis is also explicitly motivated by a desire to provide driver's licenses to people who have no legal status in the U.S. (that means that their presence here is illegal).
The text of the bill, and some of its analysis by legislative committees, is startling. Some of it is laughable. In March 2003, while a dozen medical facilities in Los Angeles County were making plans to close because of insolvency brought on by massive unreimbursed medical care for illegal aliens (search), California's Senate Transportation Committee justified the bill by arguing that the state's existing license requirements "created an unfair and unjust crisis that curtails economic growth and productivity."
With the stroke of a pen Gray Davis has reversed the trend toward uniform licensing standards (search) among the states. An estimated 30 states require an applicant to provide proof of legal presence in order to be given a driver's license, and none -- except California -- explicitly bases their licensing rules on the goal of providing illegal aliens with driver's licenses.
What is now required to obtain a driver's license in California? A taxpayer identification number (search). Taxpayer identification numbers are issued by the Internal Revenue Service to people who are not eligible to be given a social security number. The only people who are ineligible, as a group, to be given social security numbers are illegal aliens and certain foreign nationals not subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Gray Davis remains oblivious to the fact that the Internal Revenue Service, the very issuer of taxpayer identification numbers, has stated that taxpayer identification numbers are nothing more than a tool for collecting tax revenue and are not a secure means of identification.
With at least two million illegal aliens of driving age in California, all of whom would apply with a non-secure taxpayer identification number as their chief form of ID, the sponsors of the bill also supported California's lax new rules as a way to provide illegal aliens with a driver's license that can function as "a 'breeder document' that is used to acquire other documentation and serves as the most widely accepted identification to qualify for both private and public sector services and programs."
One has to wonder if the bill's sponsors realized what they were saying. The bill, which is now law, seeks to loosen driver's licensing requirements to the point where a taxpayer identification number -- something that is not even designed to be a form of identification -- becomes the foundation for a driver's license. It is the bill's sponsors' hope that the resulting driver's license will breed additional forms of identification.
"It is against federal law to encourage an illegal alien to remain illegally in the United States," said Craig Nelsen, director of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement. "It seems obvious to most Americans that giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens does, indeed, encourage them to remain here illegally."
Nelsen said California's new law is in direct conflict with federal law and is therefore unconstitutional.
"The U.S. Justice Department should challenge it immediately," he said.
America has probably never seen a more cynical attempt at ethnic pandering than the California's new driver's license law. It's inconceivable that a governor would sign such a bill in today's environment, in which the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement labor around the clock to locate and remove people who have overstayed their visas or who never had any legal immigration status in the U.S. to begin with.
But illegal aliens in California need only hold out until January 2004, when the state makes altering one's identity easier than it has ever been.
Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He teaches at Berkeley College, and is author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, to be published in October.