- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

If all goes according to plan, the House of Representatives this week will take important, if long overdue, steps toward securing the nation’s borders and interior. It was outrageous that these steps, which were among the corrective actions identified by the September 11 Commission, were not taken last year. Worse yet, those who prevented what are now provisions of Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner’s “REAL ID” bill from becoming law in 2004 are no less determined to block this legislation again in 2005 — and, thereby, to perpetuate America’s vulnerability.

The REAL ID Act (H.R. 418) would address four manifestly unacceptable situations with concrete measures.

First, the bill establishes nationwide standards for driver’s licenses. This is critical since these are the identification forms most often used for such security-sensitive purposes as boarding commercial aircraft, gaining access to federal facilities and establishing bank accounts.

In particular, REAL ID would require that the states’ license-issuing authorities establish that the applicant has legal resident status in the United States, and that his or her license will be valid only as long as that remains the case.

Such eminently sensible requirements have been endorsed by both the outgoing and incoming secretaries of homeland security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, respectively.

Coupled with mandates to prevent theft, counterfeiting or inappropriate duplication of licenses, they will help prevent the sort of widespread driver’s license fraud that enabled the September 11 hijackers legally to obtain dozens of such IDs. That goal would be further advanced if every state voluntarily integrated biometric data in their licenses, as some have already begun doing.

Second, the REAL ID Act would make it more difficult for terrorists to seek and obtain asylum in the United States. As Mr. Sensenbrenner has put it, the objective is to ensure that “terrorists, like the one who plotted the ‘93 World Trade Center bombing and the man who shot up the entrance to the CIA headquarters, could not get into the country and roam around as an asylum applicant.”

Third, the Sensenbrenner bill would waive environmental laws that have been used to prevent completion of a border fence near San Diego where a 3 mile gap allows illegal aliens easy access to the United States.

Finally, the REAL ID bill would make it clear that members of a terrorist organization or group that “endorses or espouses terrorist activity” are inadmissible to the United States. It also facilitates deporting any such individuals found in this country.

How, one might ask, could anyone object to these provisions? While they seem straightforward and sensible — and, more to the point, essential when the nation is at war with a hostile Islamofascist ideology whose adherents have proven adept at exploiting our civil liberties — the powers authorized by REAL ID are, nonetheless, strenuously opposed by advocates for illegal aliens and groups sympathetic with, if not actually tied to, the terrorists.

More serious threats to enactment of REAL ID’s provisions, however, come from those bent on tying the Sensenbrenner bill to action on one form or another of legislation offering what amounts to amnesty for illegal aliens. The president’s proposal for immigration “reform” and variations espoused by Republican senators such as Larry Craig of Idaho and John McCain of Arizona are bitterly opposed by many other Republicans.

As Mr. Sensenbrenner told The Washington Times: “I think they’re making a mistake by trying to use this as a horse to get more controversial provisions enacted. That would be a big mistake and would probably jeopardize passage of any reform designed to increase security, as well as reforms designed to make our immigration laws more workable.”

The United States urgently needs a national debate about how to address the security, as well as the economic and social, implications of a broken immigration system. It cannot, however, safely afford to wait to fix identified and readily correctible problems with identification, border and internal security until it has achieved consensus on the best way to deal with millions of aliens illegally in this country.

It is bad enough the latter fixes were not included, as they should have been, when the Congress acted on other September 11 Commission recommendations last year. Worse yet, some of the provisions adopted in response to those recommendations and as a sop to Mr. Sensenbrenner and his supporters — notably, providing for substantially more Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers — are not being fully funded in the new 2006 federal budget unveiled yesterday.

This week, the House of Representatives must take up once again the challenge of providing urgently needed tools to those seeking to assure the security of our borders and homeland. And the American people — who want and deserve no less — should make it clear they will hold accountable those who stand in the way of secure driver’s licenses, completed border fences and sensible policies toward terrorists in this country.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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