- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

D.C. Council members voiced overwhelming support Thursday for legislation that allows illegal immigrants in the District to acquire driver’s licenses, but tussled with the Department of Motor Vehicles director over how to issue such a document and keep in step with federal law.

“I think there is wide support for licenses being issued,” council member Mary M. Cheh said at the outset of Thursday’s packed hearing. “The only question I see is how we shall do it.”

At issue were two proposals that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain D.C. driver’s licenses — either by striking the DMV’s requirement for a Social Security number or by allowing those who have lived in the District six months but cannot prove legal residency to get a license with a special demarcation.

DMV Director Lucinda Babers disagreed with what appeared to be the less-popular measure, which would strike the Social Security number requirement — what she described as a nationwide “best practice.” She supported the second proposal, which would denote licenses as “not for federal purposes,” though the demarcation was a major sticking point for activists who were concerned it would create a two-tier system and could be used to discriminate.

Council members floated a series of scenarios to try to balance residents’ need to obtain a license with federal guidelines created by the Real ID Act, which grew out of a commission’s recommendation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that driver’s licenses needed to be more secure. Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, suggested the creation of two separate D.C. identification cards — one would serve solely as a driver’s license that everyone could get and a second, more secure, ID would serve as federal identification, which could then be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building.

“We have multiple IDs,” Ms. Cheh said, rattling off a bevy of ID cards she’s acquired over the years. “I don’t think this is beyond the capacity of us to figure out, and I think we are beginning to shape a way to steer through this.”

Unimpressed with the notion of obtaining another form of identification, council member David Grosso, at-large independent, suggested D.C. residents could also rely on passports as their federal ID.

“We could certainly educate the public to get a passport,” he said, noting that the driver’s license could be just a local ID.

Six states already allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses, with New Mexico and Washington being the only states that issue the same license to all, Ms. Babers said. Washington issues local driver’s licenses but — similarly to what Ms. Cheh proposed — also allows the option for an enhanced identification card in order to comply with the federal law. Other states, including Maryland, feature demarcations.

The federal Real ID Act, which is set to take effect across the country in 2014, requires states to check that license applicants are in the country legally, ensure they have valid Social Security numbers and verify the authenticity of documents such as birth certificates. Only 19 states currently meet Real ID Act standards while others were given deferment status, Ms. Babers said.

But with wide-ranging federal immigration reform on the table in Congress this summer, some speculate the requirements ultimately will not be enforced.

“We don’t believe, given the financial constraints and the potential disfranchisement, that the federal government will actually enforce it in that way,” Seema Sadanandan, of the American Civil Liberties Union, testified Thursday.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat whose community is home to a large immigrant population, said the District should thumb its nose at the federal law.

“We should proceed to follow New Mexico’s lead and put into place a single driver’s license in the District of Columbia and then see what happens,” Mr. Graham said. “Because the sky is not going to fall.”

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