Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 05042162 (posted Apr. 21, 2005)"
April 20, 2005
Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I rise in opposition to the REAL ID Act. The REAL ID Act is a measure the House Republicans attached to the supplemental appropriations bill. It has little or nothing to do with appropriations for tsunami victims, or appropriations for our men and women in uniform. It is a separate immigration matter, and a very controversial one.
They chose this bill because they know we need this bill. It needs to be signed by the President. So they are hoping to push through this change in immigration law on a bill that is a must-pass bill. We have had no hearings, no debate, no votes in the Senate on this so-called REAL ID Act.
The Senate Republican leadership has stated it is opposed to including this act in the appropriations bill. I hope they mean it. The test will come when this bill returns from the conference committee.
I want to take a couple minutes to explain why the REAL ID Act is something we should debate. The proponents of this act claim it is simple, that all it wants to do is prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.
Several States across America have decided, in their State legislatures, to allow the issuance of State driver's licenses to people who are not documented. You know the argument: Those people are going to drive anyway. It is better they are licensed, that they clearly have demonstrated they can drive a truck or a car, and they have insurance.
Now, we can get into that debate, and it would be an interesting one, as to whether those States have made the right decision. This bill says all the States that have decided to issue the driver's licenses are wrong. So it would prohibit those who are undocumented from receiving driver's licenses.
If that were the only issue, it is one we could debate for a little while and decide whether we ought to preempt all of these State legislatures. But this bill does so much more. The REAL ID Act would mean real big problems for the States and a lot of people. It imposes very difficult standards for driver's licenses on the States.
When we passed the intelligence reform bill, we carefully crafted language -- bipartisan language -- to establish standards for States issuing driver's licenses. We did not tell the States who could receive a driver's license. That has always been a State decision. But we required that the Federal Government work cooperatively with the States to create minimum Federal standards for driver's licenses. Standards will be established for, among other things, documents presented as proof of identity, fraud prevention, and security features included in driver's licenses.
The REAL ID bill goes far beyond this intelligence reform provision. Its impact will be felt by every American when they go in for a driver's license. It requires that the State DMV verify every document, including birth certificates, presented by every applicant, including American citizens. This means significant expense and long processing delays.
If a State, incidentally, fails to comply with the REAL ID provisions included in the House bill, no resident of that State -- listen to this carefully -- no resident of that State will be able to use their driver's license for Federal purposes. So what would that mean? The most common form of identification in an airport is a driver's license. If you have been on an airplane, you know it. People bring out their driver's license.
This provision coming over from the Republican House says if your State does not comply with this law, if you are a resident of that State, you cannot use your driver's license to get on an airplane. What will you use? If you have a passport, I guess you could use it, but many people do not have a passport. So it goes way beyond what it needs to do to make certain we have secure driver's licenses.
As I mentioned earlier, we have already addressed the issue of driver's license security in the intelligence reform bill. The Federal Government is already meeting with State governments to negotiate new minimum Federal standards for driver's licenses. The REAL ID Act would stop this process dead in its tracks by repealing the driver's license provision in the intelligence reform bill.
Incidentally, the REAL ID Act is opposed strongly by the States. Every Senator has received a letter opposing the REAL ID Act from the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. They have said clearly, this REAL ID Act will "impose technological standards and verification procedures, many of which are beyond the current capacity of even the Federal Government."
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have this letter printed in the Record.
Mr. DURBIN. COL Margaret Stock, who is a law professor at West Point, points out that military personnel around the world will be dramatically impacted if their State driver's licenses are not accepted by the Federal Government. It is not simply a matter of getting on an airplane. For our men and women overseas it can be much worse. She wrote:
This law threatens to disrupt thousands of routine yet official acts that occur daily on every military post in the world....The proposed law threatens vital functions of the Department of Defense, and promises unforeseen headaches for military personnel and their family members.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have this article printed in the Record.
Mr. DURBIN. Separate and apart from the driver's license issue, the REAL ID Act goes into other equally important and controversial issues. It would dramatically raise the standards for receiving asylum. This provision is supposedly aimed at terrorists but applies to all asylum applicants. Current law already prohibits -- already prohibits -- suspected terrorists from obtaining asylum. That is not an issue.
In Illinois, there is a wonderful social-services agency called Heartland Alliance. One of the things they do is provide assistance to refugees who have come to Illinois from all over the world. Heartland Alliance is not a political organization. They are down in the trenches doing important work for people in need. So when I received a letter from them telling me the REAL ID Act would hurt the people they serve, I paid attention.
Let me tell you what they said:
REAL ID threatens to eliminate relief for immigrants most in need of protection -- those fleeing persecution in their home countries. REAL ID is inconsistent with our commitment to international agreements relating to refugees, and it violates some of the rights that we, as a nation of immigrants and a global leader of human rights, cherish.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have this letter printed in the Record.
Mr. DURBIN. I agree with Heartland Alliance. Our country has always stood with, not against, refugees. I have heard Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, Senators and Congressmen, step forward and talk about religious persecution in other countries. I have heard people on both sides of the aisle lamenting some of these human rights abuses in other countries where people who are simply expressing their points of view are imprisoned.
We have said, and I believe, that the United States is in favor of freedom around the world. So the victims of oppression, the victims of tyranny, the victims of dictatorships, when they escape, come to the shores of the United States and ask us if we will give them refuge until their country changes. And we have done it. It is one thing to say you stand for freedom of religion and freedom of speech and freedom of the press; it is another to prove it by accepting these refugees.
This bill, the so-called REAL ID Act, will make it much more difficult for those refugees to come to our shores. If this becomes law, it will become very difficult for individuals fleeing persecution and torture to receive asylum in the United States. If we shut the door to the most vulnerable, how can we continue to preach to the rest of the world about our commitment to democracy?
Remember President Reagan's vision of our Nation. He called it "a shining city on a hill." Here is what he said:
If there have to be city walls, the walls have doors and the doors are open to anyone with the will and heart to get here....The city is a beacon...a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
Like me, President Reagan was the son of an immigrant. We had very different political philosophies, but President Reagan understood that our great country has always been a sanctuary for those fleeing persecution and oppression.
Even the conservative Wall Street Journal is opposed to the REAL ID Act. In an editorial they called the driver's license provisions "costly and intrusive." They said:
It's not hard to imagine these de facto national ID cards -
Which they believe this bill would create -- turning into the kind of domestic passport that U.S. citizens would be asked to produce for everyday commercial and financial tasks.
They also called the asylum provisions "dubious." That is the Wall Street Journal. Listen to what they said:
The last thing a terrorist would want to do is apply for asylum. Not only would he be bringing himself to the attention of the U.S. government -- the first step is being fingerprinted -- but the screening process for applicants is more rigorous than for just about anyone else trying to enter the country....Raising the barrier for asylum seekers at this point would only increase the likelihood of turning away the truly persecuted.
That is the Wall Street Journal, not known as a bleeding-heart publication. They think the REAL ID Act makes no sense in fighting terrorism.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have the editorial printed in the Record.
Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, clearly, the REAL ID Act is a Draconian piece of legislation that would impose unnecessary hardships on the States and the American people and lead us to turn away deserving refugees who are fleeing persecution.
I sincerely hope the Senate Republican leadership, which has said they do not want this provision in this bill, will oppose its inclusion in the conference report.
Madam President, I yield the floor.