Driver's Licenses for Illegals Still an Issue

Congress' intelligence overhaul provides the largest buildup in border guards in the nation's history, but many House Republicans won't be satisfied until states are forbidden from giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses that the lawmakers say enable terrorists to operate in the United States.

The legislation passed Friday and sent to President Bush (search) nearly doubles the number of Border Patrol agents to 21,000 over the next five years. It adds 4,000 Immigration and Customs (search) agents by 2010 and makes available 40,000 more detention beds for illegal aliens.

But to truly secure the nation, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search) said Congress needs to pass "real driver's license reform." He said the first bill he will introduce next year will provide those reforms.

"Real driver's license reform will replace the Band-Aid approach that was passed last night," he said.

Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said he also will renew his effort to tighten U.S. asylum laws and for closing a three-mile gap in an Otay Mesa, Calif., fence built to deter illegal immigrants from Mexico.

"It's not only a national embarrassment, but also a security risk," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled her opposition to the provisions during debate on the broader intelligence bill this week, calling the measures "ill advised."

Removed from the final intelligence package was Sensenbrenner's House-passed measure on driver's licenses. It would have required states to issue some form of identification to U.S. citizens and legal residents only. People would have to show that I.D. when boarding a plane or entering a secure federal building.

All but one of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, had some form of U.S. identification — some by fraud, the 9/11 Commission found. The commission recommended the federal government set standards for issuing birth certificates and other identification documents such as driver's licenses.

Sensenbrenner tried to separate the issue from Bush's call in January for a guestworker program to control illegal immigration.

"I really think it's a mistake to try to mix up immigration with terrorism. All but a handful of people who come to this country are coming for legal and legitimate purposes," he said.