Federal Authorities Review State Laws Granting Drivers’ Licenses to Illegal Aliens
By David Jaroslav | FAIR Take | January 2020
The Trump Administration is poised to take a close look at state laws that allow illegal aliens to get drivers’ licenses, after New York’s “Green Light” Law took effect and New Jersey passed similar legislation in December. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now have such laws on the books.
On December 30, 2019, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf sent a memo to all DHS component agencies, stating that “[d]ue to the enactment of state laws that directly impact the ability of states to cooperate with law enforcement, and DHS in particular, it is necessary for a department-wide assessment of the impacts that these laws create and the potential solutions to mitigate any impacts." He then ordered a department-wide “operational assessment” of state laws that authorize drivers’ licenses for illegal aliens. The assessment will examine how these laws “affect [DHS] enforcement efforts for both immigration and other investigations into human trafficking, drug smuggling and counterterrorism.” DHS agencies include, among others, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US Secret Service and the US Coast Guard.
Wolf’s memo focuses in particular on whether and how the drivers’ license laws in each state require departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) or other state agencies to withhold information from the federal government, “and what the potential security consequences are without the data.” This harkens back to 9/11 Commission report which found that nineteen terrorists involved in the 2001 attacks possessed 31 state-issued drivers’ licenses and ID cards between them, allowing them to pass relatively unnoticed throughout the United States. As a result of the Commission’s report, Congress enacted the REAL ID Act in 2005.
Since the implementation of the REAL ID Act, states have created a loophole to get around the requirements of the law by creating a “two-tiered” system for driver’s licenses. States issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens exploit federal law by issuing both REAL ID compliant and non-compliant licenses.
After Secretary Wolf issued the memo, DHS spokeswoman Heather Swift stated, “laws like New York’s have dangerous consequences that have far reaches beyond the DMV … These types of laws make it easier for terrorists and criminals to obtain fraudulent documents and also prevent DHS investigators from accessing important records that help take down child pornography and human trafficking rings and combat everything from terrorism to drug smuggling.”
Niagara County, New York County Clerk Joseph Jastremski (R), whose county has sued the State of New York over the Green Light Law, said, “I’m glad they (the federal government) is finally weighing in. I thought they should have weighed in sooner.”
So far it is unclear if DHS’s assessment will lead to specific actions by the department or other federal agencies, but it certainly represents a large step in that direction. In addition to the possibility of the federal government suing states with such laws, FAIR’s Executive Director Bob Dane has suggested withholding highway or other targeted federal funds, and perhaps most obviously to “[de]ploy ICE agents at New York’s [and other states’] DMV offices, now crowded with illegal aliens lining up for licenses.”