- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

Departing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge supports national standards for driver’s licenses, as proposed in several bills pushed by Republicans in Congress.

The driver’s license is “the most standard form of ID” across the country, Mr. Ridge said Friday, so it makes sense to “ask the states to buy into a baseline set of national standards.”

“As a governor, I would not have felt put upon by that,” said the secretary, who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001.

States currently can authorize their motor vehicle administrators to issue licenses to whomever they choose, verifying the applicant’s identity with any documents they decide to require.

Though the proposals before Congress wouldn’t change that authority, they would establish minimum standards that states would have to meet if their licenses were to be acceptable as identity documents to the federal government — for instance to board airplanes or gain access to federal government buildings.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has proposed a bill that sets standards including a so-called legal presence requirement. Noncitizens applying for a license would have to prove that they are lawfully in the United States, and — for holders of temporary visas — the license issued would expire on the same date as the visa.

Mr. Sensenbrenner said his bill — called the Real ID Act — “does comport with the principles of federalism.

“The states are free to issue driver’s licenses and ID cards to whomever they wish to issue them to, but if they wish to use the ID for federal purposes, then it does have to meet certain standards, including the standard of legal presence in the United States,” he said last week.

But Mr. Sensenbrenner’s proposals were controversial when they were introduced as part of the September 11 intelligence reform bill last year — arousing the fierce opposition of many immigrants’ rights advocates.

Even motor vehicle administrators were uneasy.

“Our initials are DMV, not INS,” Jason King, spokesman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, told United Press International last year — referring to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The agency was absorbed into the new Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

“We are the experts in driver licensing, not immigration,” he said.

Moreover, immigrants’ rights advocates argue that by excluding undocumented migrants from the vehicle and driver-licensing system, legal presence requirements make the roads less safe as they make the identity system more secure.

The Sensenbrenner bill also contains a series of provisions aimed at tightening asylum laws and making it easier to deport people suspected of having links to terrorism. These provisions also were controversial when they were introduced last year.

Eventually, both sets of proposals were stripped from the September 11 bill before it passed.

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