- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

Since taking office last year, Gov. Mark Warner has repeatedly promised that Virginia will do its part to aid the nation's war against terrorism. But his administration appears to be working behind the scenes to kill legislation that would end the state's reputation as a mecca for immigration fraud by requiring applicants for drivers licenses to prove they are legally in the United States.
Seven of the 19 terrorist hijackers who murdered 3,000 Americans on September 11 had Virginia identification cards, even though they did not live in the state. Today more than 16 months after those attacks foreign nationals living in Virginia can still renew their drivers' licenses without having to show that they are legal U.S. residents. Legislation to end this practice passed the Virginia House of Delegates last year, only to be killed in the Senate.
Once again this year, a bill has been introduced in the General Assembly to change this situation. The measure, sponsored by Sen. James "Jay" O'Brien, Fairfax County Republican, and Delegate David Albo, Fairfax County Republican, would require that those who apply to renew their drivers' licenses present documents showing that they have a legal right to live in the United States, such as a visa or permanent residency card.
It "would be a big help to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies if we could guarantee that a license or ID card issued by Virginia was legitimate and only for the time [the owner] was legitimately in the country," said Thomas Drumm, a retired FBI agent with nine years of terrorism-fighting experience.
Last week, the Virginia Senate's Courts of Justice Committee heard testimony in support of the bill from Laurie Manel, a Canadian citizen now living in Northern Virginia. Mrs. Manel (whose story was previously reported in The Washington Times), described how she went to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Manassas and was not asked to present identification, even though she brought with her a Social Security card and another card showing she is a permanent U.S. resident. When she complained to the head of that DMV office about the lax verification procedures, Mrs. Manel was brushed off by an agency official, who told her that "that's the way the [Warner-appointed] head of the DMV wants it."
After listening to such testimony, the Courts of Justice panel voted 10-4 in favor of the O'Brien-Albo legislation. Two of Mr. Warner's staunchest liberal allies, Northern Virginia Democratic Sens. Linda Puller and Richard Saslaw, were among those voting for the bill.
While Mr. Warner has yet to take a position on the legislation, which has come under fire from some immigrant-rights groups, his administration seems to have settled on a strategy for killing the bill: sending DMV bureaucrats out to tell the General Assembly that the legislation will cost too much to implement. Last month, DMV put the price at slightly above $1 million. The agency now asserts that it will cost $5.6 million a year to implement, and suggests that, in an age of austerity, this would be too expensive.
Even assuming the $5.6 million figure is true, a point that Mr. O'Brien sharply contests, the General Assembly and Mr. Warner need to find the money a minuscule amount given the reality that the state has an annual budget in excess of $20 billion. It's time for Mr. Warner to show some leadership and cooperate with lawmakers like Messrs. O'Brien and Albo in passing legislation to abolish Virginia's current practice of issuing drivers' licenses to illegal aliens.


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