WASHINGTON – Measures to keep driver's licenses out of the hands of terrorists (search) were left off the intelligence overhaul bill passed two months ago, but the House voted Thursday in separate legislation to require states to verify that driver's license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.
The bill passed 261-161 with strong Republican backing. Supporters said the legislation will help prevent terrorists from getting legitimate identification. The terrorists who commandeered the planes on Sept. 11, 2001, had valid driver's licenses.
It also makes it easier for judges to deport immigrants seeking political asylum if they are believed to be terrorists.
"Common sense says we should not allow suspected terrorists to be able to stay inside our borders if they could harm us," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search).
The burden is on the license applicant to provide the proof, but if states don't comply with the law, any federal agency can reject as insufficient identification driver's licenses issued by those states.
"Today there are over 350 valid driver's license designs issued by the 50 states. We all know it's very difficult for security officials at airports to tell the real ID cards from the counterfeit ones," said the bill's sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis.
Opponents to the bill called it anti-immigrant legislation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif., also charged that it suspends regulations on child labor and the environment.
Governors and state motor vehicle departments argued that the burden of playing immigration officer — including verifying background information and legal status — is too costly. The National Governors Association (search) and a group representing motor vehicle department administrators said in a letter to House leaders that the measure is a "massive unfunded mandate."
The bill is expected to have more difficulty in the Senate, where several Republican lawmakers have said they want it considered as part of a broader immigration package.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, has said he supports Sensenbrenner's proposals to bar illegal immigrants from using driver's licenses as identification to get on airplanes or enter federal buildings, but that this issue must be dealt with along with other immigration proposals.
FOX News' Molly Hooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.