The Impact of Granting Driver's Licenses to Illegal Aliens in New York
Testimony of Dan Stein, President Federation for American Immigration Reform
Presented to the New York Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs and the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation
Monday, October 15, 2007
This statement addresses the impact of the New York Department of Motor Vehicles’ decision to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens on national security and immigration issues in the United States. FAIR strongly opposes recent changes proposed by Governor Spitzer that would weaken post-9/11 security procedures in preventing illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses. For reasons mentioned below, the security standards set by New York have implications for security throughout the nation.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for giving me this opportunity to present the position of the Federation for American Immigration Reform on issue of the revised driver’s license policy of the State of New York and the immigration policy concerns behind it. My name is Dan Stein, and I am the President of FAIR. FAIR is a non-profit, public interest organization that advocates a just immigration policy that serves the national interest and the interests of American citizens.
“We shall never forget.” Did the Governor forget? The horrible events of 9/11 should be a constant reminder that this world has changed forever. The destructive power of modern nuclear devices suggests new challenges and new dangers associated with lax immigration controls. The sad truth is there are always those who would come to this country not to pursue a better life for themselves, but to undo the lives of those already here. Yet the modern destructive power of those who may wish us harm is so great that we can no longer to return to “business as usual.” It is the paramount obligation of state and federal governments — working together in a manner consistent with our laws and constitutions — to take all reasonable measures to prevent the next Mohamed Atta or Ramzi Binalshibh from carrying out his intentions. Secure, standardized driver’s license procedures are an essential step toward stopping those who would do us harm. With a driver’s license, an illegal alien gains the ability not only to drive, but to travel freely about the country. The driver’s license provides the bearer the appearance legality, giving the alien access to goods and services he would otherwise be unable to use. It is the “platinum visa” for any international terrorist to use throughout the U.S.
For this reason, the 9/11 hijackers made certain to obtain a variety of driver’s licenses while they plotted their mission. Weak security standards only made it easier for the hijackers to obtain them. Investigators working for the 9/11 Commission uncovered that the 9/11 hijackers acquired a total of thirty-four identifications: thirteen driver”s licenses, two of which were duplicates, plus twenty-one federal or state issued identification cards. Janice Kephart, counsel for the 9/11 Commission, testified that these identity documents proved critical to the 9/11 terrorists. Ms. Kephart explained: “The hijackers’ acquisition of driver’s licenses and identification cards was clearly part of the hijackers” overall travel strategy that included fraud in every aspect of their travel: using fraudulently altered passports to obtain visas, entry, and immigration benefits through fraud.”1
The tragic lesson we learned about the importance of identity documents after 9/11 was initially heeded lawmakers, including those in New York. In 2002, the State of New York began requiring verification of social security numbers from driver’s license applicants—essentially preventing illegal aliens from obtaining New York driver’s licenses. But, beginning in November, the State of New York will reverse this policy and send out invitations to over 500,000 illegal alien residents, asking them to come out to their local DMV office and apply for a new license.2 The security implications of such a change in policy are vast. By inviting illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses in the State of New York, our nation becomes more vulnerable to another catastrophic attack.
The driver’s license is a critical document that alone, or in conjunction with other documents, allows one to live, work, bank, and move about with ease, without drawing any unwelcome attention. A criminal alien in possession of a driver’s license gains an immeasurable advantage in his ability to prey on innocent New Yorkers. In testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, the FBI described the value to criminals of obtaining a drivers license:
Once in possession of a driver”s license, a criminal is well on his way to using the false identity to facilitate a variety of crimes, from money laundering to check fraud. And of course, the false identity serves to conceal a criminal who is already being sought by law enforcement… . Such false identities are particularly useful to facilitate the crime of money laundering, as the criminal is able to establish one or more bank accounts under completely fictitious names. Accounts based upon such fraudulent premises greatly hamper money-laundering investigations once the criminal activity is discovered. As the Subcommittee is well aware, the FBI is particularly concerned about fraudulent financial transactions in the post 9/11 environment, given the fact that foreign terrorists often rely on money transferred from within the United States.3
Mr. Chairman, New Yorkers are only too aware of how granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens makes it easier for the terrorist who wants to come to the United States to adopt a false identity and set about planning a terrorist attack. It was not by accident that 18 of the 19 9/11 hijackers had acquired U.S. driver’s licenses. They did not go through this effort because they enjoyed spending time at DMV offices. Rather, those considered acquisition of driver’s licenses to be critical to the success of their operation. As noted in the final report of the 9/11 Commission, “Acquisition [of driver’s licenses]… assisted them in boarding commercial flights, renting cars and other necessary activities.”4
Moreover, a close examination of the Governor’s stated reasons for the policy reversal shows that, while they may come from good intentions, they are nonetheless wholly misguided. First, the Governor argues that extending licenses to illegal aliens would reduce unsafe driving conditions in New York. Second, the Governor claims his policy would lower insurance rates by making it possible for illegal aliens to obtain automobile insurance. And third, the Governor argues granting licenses to illegal aliens would increase state and national security by bringing illegal aliens into “the system,” making them easier to track if they are suspected of wrongdoing.
Mr. Chairman, I cannot see how any of these stated objectives are achieved by giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens — at least, not without creating a risk of greater harm to the State and the Nation. Before rebutting the Governor’s specific assertions in support of his policy, let me first point out that there are two directions this nation can go: First, we can move toward engaging states as full partners in the quest to remove illegal aliens from the country. This would seem to be wisest course and the one we have charted since 9/11. The second approach is the one new being pursued by the Governor. It assumes that illegal aliens will remain here in large numbers, and states must resume a policy of accommodating their physical presence through the provisions of benefits and services. Mr. Chairman, I assert on behalf of citizens all across this country that this is a very dangerous path to pursue. The security of the nation depends on the participation of each and every state: the barrel will only hold as much water as the shortest stave, and the nation will only be as secure as the security standards of the state with the weakest standards. Accommodation in this casedoes not answer the national need.
As to the specific assertions by the Governor in defense of the policy, FAIR asserts as follows: First, extending driver’s licenses to illegal aliens will not reduce unsafe driving in New York. While a person who lacks a valid license may be five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than a person who has one, the remedy is not to give out licenses to illegal aliens. A study by the American Automobile Association did discover that the people without valid licenses are five times more likely to be in fatal crashes.5 But the same study demonstrated that people likely to be involved in crashes lacked valid licenses not because they were present illegally, but because they were very young, were driving at night, or had multiple DUIs. Moreover, just giving out driver’s licenses would hardly make the situation better. No one would rationally argue that the way to decrease auto accidents by kids under 16 is to lower the driving age to 3. By the same token, it defies common sense to contend that the best way to combat accidents by illegal aliens is to give them all drivers’ licenses. If the State of New York really wanted to prevent crashes by unlicensed drivers, the state would discourage them from driving in the first place. This could be done in a variety of ways, but it is certainly not done by lowering standards for driver’s licenses.
Second, Mr. Chairman, granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens will not reduce insurance rates. While New York State law requires all motorists to have auto insurance, there is no reason to think that illegal aliens, having disregarded so many other laws, would obey this one. What is mistakenly assumed by the Governor’s new policy is that illegal aliens, who generally are low-income, have the cash available to acquire auto insurance plus the incentive to buy it in order to protect what little assets they have. 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.
Mr. Chairman, the third reason given by the Governor for reversing the State’s driver’s license policy is that it would increase the security of the people of New York. By getting an alien’s name and residence into the records, the Governor suggests that the State will be able to track down the alien if there is ever any question of criminality or terrorist activity. This claim is disingenuous. Under the new driver’s license policy, a criminal illegal alien or terrorist can easily provide a phony name and documents in order to skirt the identity requirements. This document can then be used to engage in a wide variety of frauds and other illegal activity.
Mr. Chairman, rather than decreasing the security threat, the new driver’s license rule would encourage criminal aliens and terrorists to come to and operate out of New York State. The current population of illegal aliens in the United States is at least 12 million people. FAIR estimates that nearly 500,000 of these illegal aliens live in New York State as of 2005; the Pew Hispanic Center estimated the number to be between 550,000 and 650,000 in 2004.6 According to Customs and Border Patrol, in the 2006 fiscal year, almost 10 percent of the illegal aliens who were apprehended coming into the country were criminal aliens.7 If this data is indicative of the overall population of illegal aliens already present in the United States, New York State may currently have 50,000 criminal illegal aliens operating here, the vast majority of whom will commit multiple offenses, according to a May 9, 2005 briefing before the House of Representatives.8
The Governor has attempted to assuage concerns by contending that the breeder documents that would replace the social security card in proving identity — namely a valid foreign passport — would limit the ability of illegal aliens to commit fraud in obtaining driver’s licenses. According to the Governor, these foreign passports will be electronically scanned and then it and other identity documents will be examined DMV security experts. The Governor, however, provides no date by which these security measures will be in place, and in any case we doubt their efficacy. Moreover, there are obvious concerns with permitting the state DMV to rely almost entirely on foreign passports in issuing drivers licenses. Such a procedure — implemented in a manner inconsistent with the federal statutory scheme — would seem to many as if New York State is embarking on its own, independent immigration program.
Let me address more specifics here: Given that we are a long way off from having the capacity to verify the validity of the plethora of domesticbreeder documents, how can we reasonably expect any state to verify the variety of foreign breeder documents issued in various nations? As many state motor vehicle departments have rightly pointed out, one of the difficulties in meeting the obligations of the federal REAL ID Act is that our own domestically generated breeder documents are far from being secure.9 Moreover, given the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens residing in New York State, the time and resources available to carry out any sort of meaningful verification process for people presenting foreign documents will be minimal. Terrorists who are looking to obtain valid U.S. identity documents will certainly, and happily, get in line at the nearest DMV office and join the stampede.
Mr. Chairman, the people do not understand this continued desire to accommodate illegal immigration at the expense of community security. I assert that time is short and the urgency is great. Many states have objected to the national standards specified by the REAL ID Act on the basis of cost. With all due respect, sir, that the states can pay now and comply — or they can pay dearly later. I shudder to imagine what that will mean to some unfortunate thousands in communities, towns and cities in the next few years if we continue to turn a blind eye to the need to better control illegal immigration. What price is too high to prevent mass murder? I realize that there is some sacrifice required to bring about these vital changes in the service of national security. But these changes are needed and they are needed now. States must be full partners in the effort to deter illegal immigration.
Mr. Chairman, for all of these reasons FAIR believes that granting driver’s license to illegal aliens would be a terrible mistake with potentially disastrous consequences. The stated purposes behind the proposal will not be realized and the security of the State of New York and the nation will be placed at greater risk.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer any questions you or the committee members may have at this time.
- Janice L. Kephart, “Border Security and Enforcement: The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Training for Border Inspectors, Document Integrity, and Defects in the U.S. Visa Program.” Testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security (March 14, 2005).
- New York Times, Sept. 22, 2007.
- Testimony of Steve McCraw, Assistant Director of The Office of Intelligence, FBI Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims on Consular ID Cards, “Consular ID Cards in a Post-9/11 World” (June 26, 2003).
- Final Report of the 9/11 Commission, p. 390.
- AAA Foundation, “Unlicensed to Kill,” 25-27 (2000).
- Federation for American Immigration Reform, “New York: Illegal Aliens,” /site/PageServer?pagename=research_researchb009 (2007).
- Press Conference with Secretary Michael Chertoff, Chief of the Border Patrol David Aguilar and Acting Director of the Office of Detention and Removal John Torres on the Secure Border Initiative (December 1, 2005): http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/press_release_0799.shtm.
- Government Accountability Office, “Information on Certain Illegal Aliens Arrested in the United States” (May 9, 2005).
- Tom Wolfensohn of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has pointed out that there are 240 different valid forms of driver’s licenses issued in the U.S. and Canada. These are supported by 6,000 different versions of birth certificates issued in the U.S., and 40 different versions of the Social Security card.