- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Gone are the days when law-enforcers were at odds with law-breakers. Now a cadre of police chiefs has come out in favor of rewarding illegal aliens. That's correct. Several police chiefs in Georgia including chief of Atlanta want driver's licenses given to illegal aliens. They are supporting a bill, introduced by a Democrat in the Georgia legislature, that would give licenses to illegal aliens.
Georgia is among a list of states where licenses for illegal aliens have been in the news. In states with rising illegal-alien populations (largely Hispanic), liberal politicians eager to pander to the minority electorate are pushing similar measures. In California, a license bill almost succeeded last October, but it was vetoed at the last minute (but the bill's sponsor said he would try again). Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and New Jersey some of the other states whose lax license rules have been in the news.
Proponents of licenses for illegal aliens say that, since illegal aliens are going to drive anyway, a license would make them legal drivers. At this rate of incremental anarchy, we might as well say that since liars are going to lie anyway, we should make lying legal. They fail to see that what is at stake is not a mere license, but the fundamental respectability of law itself. Nothing is a greater assault on law than rewarding a lawbreaker.
Giving licenses to illegal aliens is a big issue and it should be. After all, the driver's license is the ticket to the conveniences of American life from cashing a check at the local grocery store to proving your identity at an airport not the least of which is your access to the great American open road. Life cannot be fully enjoyed in America unless you have a license. A license sets you free free to go anywhere and see anything without depending on others.
As one who drives over 40,000 miles each year (long daily commute + weekend pleasure trips), I am fully aware of the value of a license. I cannot imagine life without it. But you need not own a car to have a license. I know people, especially city-dwellers, who keep a license for the conveniences it brings. In fact, whether we like it or not, the driver's license has become the de facto national identity card.
Nevertheless, driving is not a right it is a privilege. Nobody has a constitutional right to a driver's license; that is why your local motor vehicle office can deny you a license for failing to learn a simple thing like parallel parking. Thus, it follows that the people who are given a license should be legally deserving of that privilege. An illegal alien someone who has no right to be here in the first place does not deserve it.
In addition to being a high-mileage driver, there is a personal reason that underlies my opposition to licenses for illegal aliens I am an immigrant who came here legally and did everything legally when I qualified for my license many years ago. It was earned. To give licenses to illegal aliens is to slap every legal immigrant in the face for obeying the law.
With an estimated 10 million illegal aliens in America, any state with lax license rules is a problem. It is a particularly vexing problem, given the license reciprocity among the states. Without this reciprocity, a Maryland driver, for instance, would not be allowed to drive in Michigan, and vice versa. Consequently, even if only one state has lax rules, it can essentially nullify the strict rules of all the other states someone can get a license from that state and use it to drive in any other state.
Some of the September 11 terrorists were not here legally, but had legal licenses that enabled them to move about the country with ease, scoping out their targets, etc. If they had not had licenses, their mobility inside the country would have been severely curtailed. Without a license, they would have been forced to carry foreign identification papers or fake licenses instead, and perhaps such documents would have raised some eyebrows somewhere and helped foil their plans.
As we have learned since September 11, terrorists arrive here on temporary visas and overstay until their mission is accomplished. So, if a state wishes to issue a license to someone on a temporary visa, the expiration date of the license should be the expiration date of their visa. This is the least that state governments can do to protect Americans from external threats. Currently, a foreigner can enter the country on a temporary visa and obtain a license that is valid for four or five years, which gives him the appearance of being legal long after his visa has expired.
So, it goes without saying that while we are tightening our immigration rules, we should also tighten our driver's license rules. It is a simple precaution that could stave off tragedies yet to come.

Ian de Silva is an engineer with side interests in politics and history.

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