WASHINGTON – Immigration legislation passed by the House (search) would allow the federal government to complete a controversial fence on the border with Mexico (search), regardless of environmental concerns, and force the states to make sure they're not granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens.
The legislation, passed Thursday by a 261-161 vote, also would grant judges broader power to deport political asylum seekers.
States would have three years to comply with the new federal standards dictating what features driver's licenses must have. They could still issue special driving permits to illegal aliens, but those permits would not be recognized as identities for boarding airlines or allowing entry to federal buildings.
Republicans said the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had multiple driver's licenses that enabled them to slip through security and board the planes they flew into the World Trade Center (search) and the Pentagon and that crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania.
Ten states now don't require license applicants to prove they are citizens or legal residents: Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah. Tennessee issues driving certificates to people who cannot prove they are legal residents.
"Today there are over 350 valid driver's license designs issued by the 50 states," said the bill's author, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "We all know it's very difficult for security officials at airports to tell the real ID cards from the counterfeit ones."
Governors, state legislatures and motor vehicle departments protested the bill, calling it a costly mandate that forces states to take on the role of immigration officers. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cost local, state and tribal governments $120 million over the next five years.
A similar measure was rejected by Congress and the White House in December when it was part of a bill reorganizing intelligence agencies. It won the Bush administration's support this week but still faces stiff opposition in the Senate.
The bill is drawing criticism from Mexico, particularly its call to complete the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border south of San Diego.