Randy on RealID

Randy Kuhl has a new blog entry re-iterating his opposition to Governor Spitzer's policy granting illegal immigrants drivers' licenses. In the post, Randy adds some facts to his earlier allegation that the 9/11 hijackers' possession of licenses helped them accomplish their attack. He also points to his support of the RealID Act in the 109th Congress as an example of how identification should be handled.

It's nice to see a substantive post on Kuhl's blog, and Kuhl identifies a number of real shortcomings in our immigration system. But the underlying fallacy of the post, and the RealID act, is the notion that better identification alone will somehow fight terrorism.

To understand this point, I have to untangle two threads going through Kuhl's post. The first is his list of fraud and deception used by the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists. Randy quotes a report which details the ways that 94 terrorists were able to enter and remain in the US. The report found that 59 of those terrorists committed immigration fraud, and many of them relied on falsified documents "including driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards, and immigration arrival records". Another common form of fraud was sham marriages.

These cases of immigration fraud are serious, but they have little to do with the Spitzer proposal. As Spitzer said when explaining his proposal: "The D.M.V. is not the I.N.S. [Immigration and Naturalization Service]". In issuing licenses, the DMV is concerned with making sure that drivers are qualified and insured. Like every other agency which relies on documents, the DMV participates in a web of trust, assuming that other document-issuing agencies are doing their jobs. It would be expensive and extremely inconvenient for the DMV to re-verify visas or naturalization documents. We can't afford to make the DMV into a proxy immigration agency.

So, in response to Kuhl's examples of terrorist fraud, the obvious answer is for the federal government to fix the problems in the INS that led to this fraud. The wrong answer is to use state government as a backstop for an incompetent bureaucracy. The DMV needs to stick to its knitting, which is making sure drivers are competent and insured. In that context, licensing illegal immigrants makes sense, because it will reduce insurance costs by increasing the number of uninsured motorists. The state estimates that the rule change will save New Yorkers $120 million yearly.

So, a bigger drivers' license bureaucracy isn't the answer to our immigration problems. A national id, like RealID, doesn't do the job, either. RealID is simply a better way to determine that person X is who he says he is. But knowing that X is really X doesn't tell us anything about X's intentions. Every one of the 9/11 hijackers presented a valid ID card before they boarded their planes. Even Ted Bundy had a valid drivers' license. If he had a super-valid, nationwide ID card, would he have been caught any sooner?

I don't need to go into the risks to liberty created by one standard, nationwide id. Ron Paul has that covered. This country has long resisted that move, and states are again fighting it. It's ironic that a "conservative" like Kuhl is championing this kind of big government program.

The bottom line in all of this is that New York State should feel free to issue drivers' licenses in whatever way they think will make the roads safer. And we shouldn't have to carry a nationwide id because identity is not intent. Randy Kuhl's diagnosis is right: our immigration system is dangerously broken. His suggested cure -- interfering with states' rights and a Big Brother ID card -- is dangerously wrong.