House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. is forcing attention on an issue that has spawned little national debate until now, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: whether driver’s licenses should be given to illegal immigrants. Most states require licensed drivers to be in the country legally. About 10 states do not, including Wisconsin. Sensenbrenner calls that a huge security loophole, because driver’s licenses are used to board airplanes and enter federal buildings. Senate negotiators have rejected House language aimed at denying licenses to undocumented immigrants, a key reason why Sensenbrenner has helped put off a House vote on the reforms urged by the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. President Bush is asking Congress to pass the Sept. 11 bill when lawmakers reconvene today. If they don’t pass the measure, which centralizes the nation’s intelligence apparatus, the new Congress will have to start over next year.
While Sensenbrenner wants tougher House-approved rules on deportation and asylum included in the Sept. 11 bill, the driver’s license change would affect by far the most people. An estimated 9 million or more illegal immigrants are in the country. Under the language he wants, the federal government would accept as valid identification (for boarding an airplane, say) only those driver’s licenses issued by states that require proof from applicants that they are in the country legally.