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A Defense of the 'Real ID' Measure


Real ID is a law that requires states to meet new standards for issuing driver's licenses. President Bush signed it yesterday. In the next two days, we'll hear arguments for and against the measure. Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. That's a think tank in Washington that supports tighter controls on immigration. And he thinks Real ID is a good idea.


One of the marks of a modern society is that people are mobile and anonymous. This means there has to be a way to verify who you are, whether you're cashing a check or boarding an airplane. In our country, the main way we do that is with the driver's license. So we already have a national ID system. But unlike other countries, ours is decentralized rather than run from Washington. And that decentralization is good. But there need to be common rules if it's going to continue.

Congress has been debating such basic rules for nearly 25 years. Among the requirements in Real ID are that states not issue licenses to illegal aliens, that licenses for foreign visitors expire when their visas expire, and that states verify the documents presented by a license applicant. Sounds like common sense.

The reason this is finally happening is homeland security. As the 9-11 Commission staff wrote, for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. This is why the hijackers got their licenses from states with lax rules at the time, like Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. At least two of the hijackers would not have been able to board planes under the new rules because they were given licenses after they became illegal aliens. And as it gets harder for bad guys to get into the country legally, more will try to sneak in illegally, and keeping them from getting licenses is vital.

Critics of Real ID object that it's about ordinary immigration enforcement rather than security. But they have it all wrong. Any immigration control system that a Mexican busboy can sneak through is one that an al-Qaeda terrorist can also penetrate. We can't pick and choose which immigration laws we'll enforce or who we'll enforce them against.

And of course, immigration enforcement is necessary for a variety of other reasons as well. There are more than 10 million illegal aliens living in the United States, accounting for fully one-third of our immigrant population. They place huge demands on schools, hospitals and the justice system. Their presence even harms the industries they're concentrated in by artificially lowering the price of labor and thus removing much of the incentive to develop labor-saving technologies.

Perhaps most importantly, illegal immigrants are an affront to the rule of law and to those who navigated the bureaucratic maze to come here legally. Why even have a debate over the level of immigration and how to manage it if we're not going to enforce whatever system we set up?

Real ID is an important tool that will help protect America, and it can no longer be put off.

SIEGEL: Mike Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. That's a think tank in Washington. Tomorrow, we'll hear an opponent of Real ID.

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MICHELE NORRIS (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mark Krikorian