FARRELL: Lax Driver’s License Laws Endanger Public Safety

Chris Farrell Judicial Watch
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Lax driver’s license requirements in Virginia were a key factor in enabling the September 11, 2001, hijackers to obtain the official documents they needed to undertake their deadly attacks. Virginia fixed that loophole, but now is poised to open it back up.

On Tuesday the Virginia legislature passed two bills that would allow illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses in the state. The legislation would do away with requirements to provide proof of “legal presence” in the country. If signed, the new law would give access to licenses to approximately 300,000 illegals in the state. Thirteen other states have such laws, including Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Surovell, calls it a “public safety and quality of life bill.” It is also part of the general push by the new progressive Democratic majority in Virginia to push for expanded rights for illegals.

Surovell has forgotten why the rules exist in the first place. Virginia used to issue driver licenses without requiring citizenship but tightened requirements after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Former Virginia Attorney General and now acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said that lax license laws were the main problem that “allowed 9/11 to happen.”

“It was embarrassing to us in Virginia,” Cuccinelli said, “that the majority of 9/11 terrorists used Virginia driver licenses to help accomplish their evil mission, and we set about to fix that. And we did fix that.” The 9/11 Commission Report noted that access to official identification was so important to terrorist activities that it recommended establishing Federal guidelines for issuing driver licenses and other forms of ID.

Even more troubling is an amendment in the House version of the bill that restricts sharing the applications or proof documents used to obtain the licenses, which would severely inhibit the ability of Federal agencies to access information to determine if the person in possession of the license was an illegal. This amendment seems to be aimed directly at the wide latitude law enforcement and other government agencies otherwise have to access such records under Virginia law.

This restriction could put Virginia in the same quandary as New York. DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf recently announced that New York state residents are losing access to Federal Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) such as Global Entry. The reason is New York’s Green Light Law, under which the state DMV can refuse to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The new restrictions will impact around 250,000 New Yorkers who are either enrolled in TTP programs or applying for them. Though the language in the Virginia amendment is less explicit, it is clear that the intention is the same as in New York, namely to hamper the efforts of Federal agencies to use state driver license information to identify those who are in the country illegally.

The driver’s license legislation also raises the question of whether non-citizens will use their identification to register to vote illegally. The Senate version of the bill contained language that licenses for illegals would include text stating they are not valid ID for federal, voting or public benefit purposes. The House version contained no such language. The issue of voter fraud is particularly acute in a state like Virginia which is likely to be competitive in the 2020 presidential election. Giving illegals enhanced access to voting can only help Democratic prospects in the fall.

Virginia Democrats are intent on pushing through as much of their progressive agenda as possible before facing voters in the next gubernatorial and State House elections in 2021. In addition to the driver license issue Democrats are pushing for narcotics decriminalization, expanding the powers of unions, passing the already defunct Equal Rights Amendment and pushing radical gun control measures. Richmond seems to have a dangerous case of amnesia, combined with a virulent strain of Leftist ideology that endangers the public.

Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog. Chris is a former military intelligence officer who specialized in human intelligence.