It continues to amaze me that over five years after the 9-11 Commission Report, we as a nation are still discussing the creation of a “national identification” document. As brought to light last week in Secretary Chertoff’s remarks on DHS’s accomplishments in 2007 and priorities for 2008, DHS is moving forward with a “retooled” REAL ID requirement. Despite the current multitude of state rules and standards that are inconsistent in the issuance of driver’s licenses, reality is and continues to be that a driver’s license is the most requested and recognized form of identification. If you don’t believe that, just ask Governor Spitzer of New York who recently advocated giving illegal immigrants the ability to obtain state driver’s licenses.
I became an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agent over 30 years ago in New York City. My first assignment was to work in a group called Area Control. Area Control was responsible for locating and apprehending illegal “aliens” (at that time we could still use the term “alien,” that subsequently changed to “illegal immigrants,” then “undocumented workers,” and recently I heard the term “undocumented tourists”) who were working in the city. In any given month, a team of two (2) INS agents was expected to apprehend between 60 to 80 illegal aliens.
The aliens we encountered and arrested were from all over the world. But one thing was consistent: when you asked them for identification, they all presented a Social Security card – which at that time was generally recognized as the primary form of identification in the United States. The vast majority of these Social Security cards were, of course, counterfeit considering illegal aliens could not obtain the card legally. The Social Security Administration clearly took the initiative to establish requirements for individuals to prove that they were in the United States legally before obtaining a Social Security card that allowed them too work or open a bank account.
The point here is not about the counterfeit Social Security cards but about the legitimate cards and numbers. If an INS agent was presented a legitimate SS card, that was evidence (because of the SSA’s requirements) that the person in possession of the card was probably in the United States legally. I would guess that today, when a law enforcement officer asks someone for identification, that chances are good that a Social Security card is not the first document presented. It is the driver’s license – now the primary and most recognized form of identification.
Today, can that law enforcement officer have that same confidence in a driver’s license as the primary form of identification? Can you have any confidence in a document that is issued pursuant to a multitude of standards and rules? Can such the inconsistencies among states’ driver’s licenses programs be exploited by the criminal and terrorist element more than a program operating with a consistent standard?
It is time to tighten up these standards. In fact, it should have already been done by now. The nation and its law enforcement officers should not be forced into the position of analyzing the next terrorist act or attempted terrorist act in the context of a fraudulent driver’s license and what that license entitles that terrorist to do.