Secure Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards



The security of driver’s licenses and identification cards (IDs) has become increasingly important in an age of mass illegal immigration and global terrorism. States can play a powerful role in combatting these problems by refusing to grant documentation to illegal aliens and instituting minimum standards for the production and issuance of driver’s license and IDs.

Jurisdictions that allow illegal aliens to receive driver’s licenses and IDs often become magnets for illegal immigration, while providing safe havens to criminal aliens and terrorists. This is because driver’s licenses and IDs are useful tools to feign lawful immigration status, assume false identities, and become invisible to law enforcement. This stark reality hit Americans when the attacks of September 11, 2001 revealed that the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon not only exploited our country’s generous immigration system, but also its permissive scheme of issuing driver’s licenses and IDs. 

To examine the intelligence failures leading up to the vicious attacks, Congress appointed the 9/11 Commission. In 2004, the Commission released a report detailing its findings. Remarkably, the 9/11 Commission uncovered that among them, the 9/11 terrorists possessed 30 state-issued driver’s licenses and IDs. As the Report pointed out:               

All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification document, some by fraud. Acquisition of these forms of identification would have assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars, and other necessary activities.

Moreover, though the hijackers entered the country lawfully, several had overstayed their visa, making them unlawfully present at the time of the attacks. Nonetheless, because of the apparent legitimacy of their presence resulting from the possession of driver’s licenses and other identification documentation, law enforcement and other officials did not question their presence when encountered (reports indicate that several of the hijackers had been stopped by police for traffic violations prior to the attacks).

Recognizing that a lack of secure identity documentation helped facilitate the 9/11 attacks, in its recommendations, the 9/11 Commission Report concluded, “The federal government should set standards for the issuance of...sources of identification, such as drivers licenses.” To fulfill this recommendation, Congress passed the REAL ID Act (REAL ID) in 2005.

Real ID set minimum security standards for state driver’s license and ID issuance and production, establishing criteria that such documentation must meet in order to be accepted for federal identification purposes. Among other things, these minimum requirements consist of ensuring that driver’s licenses and IDs are tamper-resistant, include a digital photograph, and are only granted to individuals with certain types of lawful status. The REAL ID Act makes clear the federal government is not to accept documents not meeting these standards for “official purposes” including accessing certain federal buildings, nuclear facilities, or boarding commercial aircraft. Thus, to enhance national security and reduce instances of identity fraud, REAL ID was crafted to prohibit federal agencies from accepting driver’s licenses or IDs as proof of identity from states with lax security standards that allow individuals without lawful presence to receive them.

To get around REAL ID’s intent to prevent illegal aliens from receiving driver’s licenses or IDs, many unscrupulous lawmakers and illegal alien lobbyists began to craft legislation by exploiting a loophole in the law. By creating a “tiered” driver’s license system, which allows state residents to choose whether to receive a REAL ID compliant license or non-REAL ID compliant license, a handful of lawmakers have been able to grant driving privileges or IDs to illegal aliens while allowing citizens and legal residents to receive driver’s licenses that would be deemed acceptable by the federal government. Although these second-tier driver’s license and IDs include distinguishing markings to clarify that they may not be used for federal identification purposes, they nonetheless undermine federal law and represent bad public policy.

Why Should I Oppose Allowing Illegal Aliens to Receive Driver’s Licenses or Identification Cards?

  • Granting Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards to Illegal Aliens Facilitates Identity Fraud.

States that grant driver’s licenses and IDs to illegal aliens have repeatedly experienced high rates of identity fraud. Because illegal aliens often do not have documents to prove their identities from domestic sources, DMVs in states that issue driver’s licenses and IDs to illegal aliens are often forced to accept hard to verify foreign documentation or easily forged documentation to establish proof of identity.

For instance, New Mexico residents have long experienced high rates of identity fraud and human trafficking issues associated with their laws that allow illegal aliens driving privileges and IDs. During an audit between August 2010 and April 2011, investigators found that as much as 75 percent of foreign national license applications in New Mexico were phonies. Between that same period, investigators also discovered 37 percent of foreign national requests for appointments came from out-of-state, most from Arizona, Georgia, and Texas, despite state law limiting driver’s license eligibility to New Mexico residents.

Additionally, in 2015, the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles announced it had discovered that many out-of-state aliens had been fraudulently applying for driver’s licenses in the months following the implementation of its illegal alien driver’s license law. The Vermont DMV made this announcement after it discovered over a hundred applications at just one of its DMV offices in one month were submitted using false addresses. When applicants later arrived in person to take the driving portion of the test, investigators learned that many of these applicants were illegal aliens who had paid $2,000 to individuals in New York for help to obtain Vermont driver's licenses.

Tennessee, which also passed a law to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in 2004, had similarly experienced high instances of fraud in the driver’s license application process. The state ultimately repealed the law in 2007 after it became apparent to officials that granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens contributed to “an excess of fraudulent resident documents.”

Lawmakers in other states must similarly learn to make identity security a priority. Over 15.4 million Americans, or 1 in every 16 adults, were victimized by identity theft in 2016 alone, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research, with fraud losses exceeding $16 billion. States that issue driver’s licenses and IDs to illegal aliens only make it easier for such crimes to occur.

  • Granting Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards to Illegal Aliens Threatens National Security and Public Safety.

States that issue driver’s licenses or IDs to illegal aliens also make the United States needlessly vulnerable to national security threats. Any driver’s license or ID process that does not verify the authenticity of an applicant’s identity documents can be used as easily by terrorists as by illegal aliens. Even states that claim to conduct thorough background checks on applicants are often simply unequipped to verify the authenticity of certain foreign or easily forgeable documents that illegal aliens must use to provide evidence of their identities.

States that grant driver’s licenses and IDs to those who lack lawful presence only make it harder for law enforcement to uncover terrorist conspiracies and direct the federal government’s attention to suspicious individuals. Unfortunately, this lesson was learned the hard way following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As previously discussed, the 9/11 Commission made it clear that lax driver’s license and ID laws allowed the hijackers to obtain state driver’s licenses and IDs, making it easy for them to obtain housing, transportation, and other accommodations without raising suspicion while they planned and executed their deadly plot.

  • Granting Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards to Illegal Aliens Does Not Improve Insurance Rates or Highway Safety.

The pro-illegal immigration lobby often tries to sell driver’s license and ID legislation to the public by claiming it will improve highway safety and insurance rates. Since a handful of states have begun issuing driver’s licenses and IDs to illegal aliens over the past decade, however, these states have not been able to provide any data supporting these claims.

In 2011, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report that analyzed traffic accident data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System database. The AAA report reveals that from 2007-2009 less than five percent of the drivers involved in fatal car accidents nationwide were unlicensed drivers. More than 95 percent of all drivers involved in fatal car accidents were licensed drivers or driver’s whose licenses were suspended, revoked, expired, or cancelled. As a result, any correlation asserted by advocates of illegal alien driver’s licenses between road safety and unlicensed illegal alien drivers is tenuous at best.

Additionally, there is no effective way to make sure that illegal immigrants maintain auto insurance, which is costly and generally a low priority for people who are barely scraping by. What is mistakenly assumed is that illegal aliens have the means and incentive to buy auto insurance in order to protect their assets and the assets of others. While a few illegal aliens may be willing and able to buy insurance, on the whole it will not significantly reduce the number of uninsured drivers.

Additionally, data from California suggests that few illegal aliens are willing to buy auto insurance. While California issued 650,000 licenses to illegal aliens in 2015, only 11,348 people (not all of them necessarily illegal aliens) bought insurance through a state-run insurance program for low-income individuals, which illegal aliens disproportionately are. Moreover, New Mexico, which has been granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens for more than a decade, reportedly is home to one of the highest percentage of uninsured drivers in the country.

  • Granting Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards to Illegal Aliens Sends the Wrong Message to Legal and Prospective Immigrants.

Federal law clearly states under what circumstances a person may legally reside in the United States. Allowing illegal aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States to receive driver’s licenses and IDs only rewards illegal behavior and tells the world that the United States does not adhere to the Rule of Law.

Additionally, granting driver’s licenses and IDs to illegal aliens insults those legal immigrants who patiently waited for months and years for the U.S. State Department and DHS to approve their application for admission or adjustment and paid thousands of dollars in travel, legal and medical fees to abide by the entry, employment, health and processing laws and regulations.

  • Granting Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards to Illegal Aliens Encourages Additional Illegal Immigration.

States that offer benefits and driving privileges to illegal aliens become priority destinations and magnets for illegal immigration. Driver’s licenses, driving privilege cards, and IDs make living and working in the United States in violation of the law easy. When combined with sanctuary policies, taxpayer-funded public benefits, and lax employment laws (including failure to mandate E-Verify usage among employers), laws that grant driver’s licenses or IDs become an important part of a de facto state-authorized amnesty.

Despite what illegal alien advocates claim, mass illegal immigration is proven to have a depressing effect on the wages and employment rates of American workers. A 2013 study by Harvard University’s George Borjas concluded that illegal immigration reduced wages for the most economically vulnerable Americans, who primarily work low-wage jobs that require minimal levels of education. The study revealed that illegal immigration reduces the wages of native-born workers by an estimated $99 to $118 billion a year, and that any benefits of illegal labor are redistributed to business owners rather than workers.

In addition to making it harder for many Americans to make a living, illegal immigration drains public schools, welfare programs, and delicate state and local budgets, which leads to a higher cost of living for everyone. Aside from illegal aliens themselves, the only groups that really benefit from laws that promote illegal immigration are profit-collectors that want to keep labor costs low and politicians that rely on these industry leaders for their donations or hope to benefit from future votes from illegal aliens, in the event of a future amnesty, and their children, who if born in the United States are born citizens.

Which States Need to Reform their Laws?

As of April 2017, 12 states and the District of Columbia allow illegal aliens to receive driver’s licenses or IDs. These states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. The majority of these jurisdictions, 10 out of 13, enacted their laws during the Obama Administration. Although this may seem like a small minority of jurisdictions, because illegal aliens may use these licenses and IDs to travel throughout the U.S., rent housing, and even gain employment, their impact should not be underestimated. Moreover, even states that do not expressly issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens may need to reform their laws. To protect national security and prevent illegal aliens from using driver’s licenses or IDs to obtain unauthorized employment, benefits, or services, FAIR recommends state and local lawmakers:

  • Require that any driver’s license, permit, or privilege card, or other ID issued to legal immigrants must automatically expire upon termination of the individual’s visa;
  • Fully comply with the federal REAL ID Act;
  • Require proof of lawful immigration status to obtain taxpayer subsidized car insurance;
  • Make driver’s licenses and IDs tamper-resistant and counterfeit proof;
  • Penalize identity theft under state law;
  • Prohibit localities from granting IDs to illegal aliens; and
  • If a state has a driver’s license reciprocity agreement with another state, require applicants seeking to benefit under such agreement to demonstrate proof of lawful presence.