- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

A bill developing in Congress would require states to put a time limit on the automobile driving permits granted to foreigners temporarily residing in the United States, but the measure faces opposition even before its sponsor introduces it.
Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, has announced he is readying a proposal that would force states to examine the visas of aliens seeking driver permits and would require that the permits expire when the applicants' visas expire. He modeled the bill on the licensing regulations of Arizona, which started time-limiting aliens' driver licenses six years ago.
Florida and New Jersey similarly limit aliens' permits to the period of their authorized stay in the United States, but the states mostly license drivers for widely differing periods.
Mr. Flake said he met a man whose license doesn't expire until 2033, but in his state, a fully licensed driver does not have to renew the permit until he reaches age 65. In Indiana, a permit is good for four years, but in Alaska, Maryland, Virginia and a cluster of other states, licenses last five years.
The idea of imposing a time limit on aliens' driving permits isn't new. David Simcox, a former foreign service officer who has studied the immigrant licensing issue, said that during the Clinton administration, the National Security Council recommended the driving-permit limitation as an anti-terrorism measure. Nothing was done then but, after September 11, Mr. Flake said, "It's only common sense."
"We're allowing people who enter the country as students or workers for restricted periods to have an official identification that's good for five, 10 or 30 years," he said. "They use the license as identification when buying plane tickets. We need more, not fewer, ways to identify those in the country illegally."
Supporters of Mr. Flake's measure see it as one of many basic steps needed to build security into the immigration and visa system. And they are not dissuaded by the prospect that the measure would inconvenience many of the nation's illegal residents and lead some to be identified and deported.
But it's essentially for that reason that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (or MALDEF), a powerful civil rights advocacy group, has complained about the proposed legislation. MALDEF, which also opposes the use of photos or documents to establish the identities of first-time voters, is supporting legislation in California and Texas that would make sure illegal border-crossers can obtain driver permits.
"We're concerned about the Flake proposal," said Aisha Qaasim, a spokeswoman for the group. "He wants to tie the issuance of a driver permit to an immigration document. That would create two classes of drivers, citizens and noncitizens, and that opens the door to discrimination against the foreign-born."
Miss Qaasim insisted it's unfair to "use the driver license to see if a person is 'out of status' [undocumented] or a noncitizen." She said Mr. Flake's proposal would not help screen out terrorists because terrorists have ways to get the counterfeit documents they need. Besides, she said, the proposal makes the driver license an identity card, "giving it a power it was never intended to have."
The National Motorists Association agreed with that last point. The drivers' organization promoted federal legislation in 1995 to eliminate the 55-mile-per hour maximum speed limit. "Using the driver's license as an ID card," the association said in a prepared statement, "… defeats its primary purpose of identifying the holder as a person capable of operating a motor vehicle."
Yet those favoring the limitation on aliens contend the driver's license is the nation's most commonly used identification card. Drivers use it to cash checks, to enter public buildings and if they're a certain age to buy liquor or prove they're eligible for a senior citizen's discount.
"People have been pushing for restricting aliens' licenses for some time," said Mark Krikorian, head of the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies. "It's astonishing that six months after September 11, it still hasn't been done."


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