Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The bigger target

From civil rights to the environment, it's become abundantly clear since 9/11 that the conservative movement has no compunction about promoting its larger agenda under the rubric of promoting "national security" and "preventing terrorism." There has been no area of policy in which this has been more clear than immigration.

The pretext for pushing right-wing immigration policies has been the notion that the 9/11 hijackers did so by manipulating the nation's immigration system. This has led to atrocities like Michelle Malkin's book Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores, arguing that "huge waves of terrorists are floating across the border."

In Congress, Rep. James Sensenbrenner -- yes, that James Sensenbrenner -- is doggedly fighting to get his proposed immigration reforms related to the "terrorist threat" passed after they were rejected last fall:
House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. on Wednesday introduced a package of immigration and security measures that were dropped from the sweeping intelligence overhaul approved by Congress last month.

One of those provisions is aimed squarely at the 10 states, including Wisconsin, that grant driver's licenses to undocumented residents.

Sensenbrenner's bill would not strictly ban such licenses. But the federal government would accept as valid identification (for boarding an airplane or entering a federal building) driver's licenses issued only by states that require proof from applicants that they are in the country legally.

Sensenbrenner said the measure is needed to prevent terrorists from using driver's licenses to penetrate the country's security defenses.

According to the Washington Times report, Sensenbrenner is justifying the reforms by claiming that allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses was responsible for the terrorist attacks:
"The 9/11 hijackers could have used their passports to board the plane, but only one did. And why was that? Those murderers chose our driver's licenses and state IDs as a form of identification because these documents allowed them to blend in and not raise suspicion or concern," he said.

Mind you, the driver's licenses are not the only focus of the bill:
Mr. Sensenbrenner's new bill includes four of the provisions that he fought for but which were dropped from the final intelligence overhaul bill last month.

The bill would fill a gap in the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, would extend the law so that terrorism-related grounds for excluding someone from entering the United States also become grounds for deportation for those already here and would revamp the asylum system to make it easier for judges to deny a claim for asylum.

However, as valabor's diary at Daily Kos points out, the language of that particular portion of the legislation empowers the director of Homeland Security the power to waive any existing law as he sees fit, under the rubric of national security. Nor would any such decision be reviewable by the courts. [Raw Story has more.]

Certainly, that's a remarkable expansion of federal powers all for the purpose of building a three-mile section of border fence. But then, that's par for the course for this bill: It claims to be about one thing (stopping terrorism) when it's abundantly clear there's a much bigger agenda in play here.

That's also clear in its major focus, which as the Times story explained, is "to crack down on illegal aliens' ability to obtain and use driver's licenses":
The measure requires that any driver's license used as a form of identification to a federal official, such as a Transportation Security Administration screener at an airport, meet national standards that include a check on whether the holder is in the country legally.

The bill doesn't force states to change their laws, but makes driver's licenses from such states inadmissible for federal identification purposes.

Actually, it concretely discriminates against any regular citizens from any of those 10 states who wants to travel by air, because it will mean they won't be able to use their driver's licenses to fly. They'll need to get a passport, at least until their state changes its laws to conform to the new federal requirements.

In Washington state (one of the 10), the requirements for obtaining driver's license revolve around establishing a person's actual identity, and his ability to drive. This is a pragmatic and practical policy for a state in which illegal immigrants comprise a substantial portion of the farm labor. Requiring proof of citizenship is not only obtuse and impractical, it would guarantee that illegal immigrants would be driving without adequate exposure to basic driving standards.

As a report from the Neward (N.J.) Star Ledger points out:
Angela Kelly of the National Immigration Forum said placing restrictions on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants will not stop them from coming into the country or from driving. "But if they don't have a license, they won't be able to get insurance and they won't know the rules of the road," Kelly said.

More to the point, Sensenbrenner's claims are in fact largely bogus, as a report from the National Immigration Law Center explains:
Sensenbrenner also has asserted that the 9/11 terrorists were able to carry out their attacks because, collectively, they were able to obtain 63 state driver’s licenses. His claim has been widely circulated by anti-immigration groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and in Congress. But the claim is contradicted by both a 9/11 Commission staff report and a fact sheet recently issued by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project (9/11 PDP), a nationwide public education campaign created by the ten members of the 9/11 Commission (a description of the 9/11 PDP can be found on its website:

The fact sheet makes clear that the claims Sensenbrenner has made about the number of licenses the hijackers obtained before 9/11 and the conclusions he draws from their use by the hijackers are both incorrect. The fact sheet reports that, in fact, the hijackers obtained only 13 (not 63) driver’s licenses, and that 2 of those were duplicates. According to the fact sheet, they also had 21 U.S.A.- or state-issued ID cards. However, the fact sheet itself is somewhat misleading in including so-called U.S.A. ID cards in this number. These are not government-issued ID cards; they are cards made by a private company that sells deceptively real–looking ID cards. So the number of government-issued ID cards was actually somewhat lower than the number cited by the commission and far lower than the number cited by Sensenbrenner.

... The commission concluded, as the 9/11 PDP fact sheet puts it, that "stronger immigration enforcement to catch terrorists who were exploiting weaknesses in America’s border security" and "greater attention to terrorist travel tactics and information sharing about such travel" are needed. According to the fact sheet, "[W]e did not make any recommendation about licenses for undocumented aliens. That issue did not arise in our investigation, as all hijackers entered the United States with documentation (often fraudulent) that appeared lawful to immigration inspectors. They were therefore 'legal immigrants' at the time they received their driver's licenses." The fact sheet notes that all of the hijackers could have obtained driver's licenses, even under the restrictive provisions pushed by Sensenbrenner, because they had valid visa documentation to show to state department of motor vehicle officials.

When you clear away the bullshit, the purpose of the legislation is clear. This isn't about keeping terrorists out. It's about keeping Latinos out.

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