CONGRESS & U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY:
DECISIVE CONGRESSIONAL ACTION NEEDED
By Thomas G. Tancredo
The fact is that we are in the process of improving the technology that we can use to make sure that the people coming into the country as visitors are who they say they are. There is both software and hardware that need to be in place now, but at least we are moving in that direction. Recently I found that we are building some barriers on the southern border, especially in and around the Douglas, Arizona, area. Hopefully, these barriers will be there to protect the national parks from being inundated, as they have been for some time now by hundreds of thousands of people crossing that border, and coming into the United States illegally.
There was a conference on terrorism and homeland security held not too long ago in--I believe it was in El Paso, Texas--and, at that conference, several members of the Bush administration actually recognized, actually stated, that there were problems with our immigration policy, especially as they reflected upon the security implications of this country after 9-11. That, in and of itself is a very good sign. Somebody is, at least, willing to talk about the security of our borders.
In fact, the phrase used at the terrorism and homeland security conference down in Texas, used by a representative of the Bush administration, was that the borders are "our first lines of defense.'' Now, of course, we have stated that fact on many, many oc- casions. Those of us who are concerned about the immigration issue have used those same words now for several years. But it is indeed heartening that we are hearing them being repeated now by members of the administration.
Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the southern border. During August, 2003, I went down to Brownsville, Texas, and spent some time there looking at our border operation, actually going out on patrol with members of the U.S. Border Patrol. We went down the Rio Grande River in the evening and watched as we implemented Operation Gatekeeper and other similar types of endeavors that are designed to tighten up border security on the southern border. I was encouraged by what I saw--a lot of dedicated people working very, very hard to make sure that the borders of this country are maintained, defended, and enforced. I had the great opportunity to speak to maybe 100 or so Border Patrol agents who were about ready to go out on muster, ride after muster, I should say. I wished them well and encouraged them in their efforts. And, to a person, they urged me to continue the efforts here in the U.S. House of Representatives to encourage my col- leagues to pay attention to the immigration issue, to become involved, regardless of how unpleasant we may find it to be when we get involved in this issue.
There are a lot of people, of course, who shy away from the issue because of the political ramifications that they fear. But there are ramifications to the country that are far more severe and far more serious than the political ramifications to someone's career here in the U.S. House of Represenatives.
So, I was encouraged by a few things I saw. However, my observation of encouraging signs is a long, long way from saying that things are good and that the momentum has shifted away from open borders, away from a policy which essentially says that every- body who can get here can get in. We are a long way from touchdown. There are a lot of things that need to happen at the federal governmental level. But what is now becoming even more disconcerting, what is now becoming a focal point of many U.S. citizens' con- cerns, and should be a focal point for a lot of our attention here in the House of Repre- sentatives, is the situation that is developing in states and localities throughout the country.
There is a publication that has been put out recently by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)--a publication called The State of Insecurity. The publica- tion relates how state and local immigration policies are undermining homeland security. I will be quoting from it liberally this evening, since I think it needs to be brought to the attention of our colleagues and to the American nation.
What we are seeing is that, even though the U.S. government is inching forward toward trying to reform the immigration process in this country, and toward trying to gain a cer- tain slight degree of security on our borders, we are watching states and localities go in just the opposite direction.
And there are, of course, certain well-known and well-documented stories and situations that we have heard about recently that I will be talking about in just a minute or two. I will reflect upon these things and what is happening at the state level, but first we should talk about these things called sanctuary policies.
"Sanctuary cities" is a term that has been applied to cities--cities throughout the country --that have adopted certain regulations and passed certain ordinances, all of which were designed to essentially protect undocumented immigrants--protect the illegal immigrant population living and working within their respective jurisdictional areas. This is happen- ing now, and there were cities that have done this in the past. College Park, Maryland, and a couple of other cities on the Eastern Coast call themselves sanctuary cities and have actually passed legislation prohibiting their local police and law enforcement agen- cies from helping the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) enforce U.S. immi- gration law. Some cities have gone farther than that, actually going to the point of saying that, if you are simply a resident of the city, you can vote in municipal elections.
Now, being a resident of the city is all that is required in some of these sanctuary cities. All you have to do is show that you have a utility bill or other evidence proving your residence and you will be able to vote.
Certainly, the cities that are doing things like this are making it more difficult for the na- tional government to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, control America's bor- ders, defend the country against international terrorism, and ensure homeland security
.For some time, New York City had a sanctuary policy. This policy, adopted back in 1989, was adopted in the form of a mayoral decree and was specifically designed to ob- struct federal immigration law enforcement.
Now, it is amazing that, even after 9-11 and New York City being Ground Zero for the terrorists, there was still a reluctance on the part of the City to repeal that particular or- der. It got to the point where, the U.S. Supreme Court refusimg to overturn a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling against the City's noncooperation policy, Mayor Bloomberg reluctantly rescinded the policy. In July of 2003, however, a bill was submitted to the New York City Council--a bill which seeks to resurrect the sanctuary policy by providing a provision banning city employees from reporting illegal aliens to local police and federal authori- ties.
This comes at a time when we even know that several of the hijackers, several of the 9-11 terrorists, were, at one time, stopped for motor vehicle violations and, because there was no database against which they could be checked, and because some of these people were actually on terrorist watch lists, but there was no cooperation between local government and the IRS, we were unable to detain these people. We were unable to de- tain the terrorists, even though some of them actually, as I say, were on terrorist watch lists, The police in the local area stopped them for traffic violations, but, due to the local government lack of cooperation, the local police did not know that the traffic violators they stopped were also on terrorist watch lists.
When you recognize that this kind of problem exists, when there is no communication among law enforcement agencies, when you also understand that there are national se- curity implications to these local sanctuary policies. There are certainly implications to local laws and other policies which say that local police will not help enforce U.S immi- gration law, that they will not cooperate with the national government in federal law en- forcement.
Here in Washington, D.C., another Ground Zero, Police Chief Ramsey took pains to re- assure the Latino Lawyers Association that the police were not backing away from a 1984 executive order that prohibits District of Columbia government employees from getting involved in immigration matters. So, Washington, D.C., is another sanctuary city.
The U.S. Congress has actually passed laws, federal laws, regarding local sanctuary policies. In 1996, a provision was added to an appropriations bill which specifically dealt with this matter and said that no city or state would be allowed to impede the flow of in- formation to the INS or restrict the flow of information from the INS. That is a law on the books today. Of course, there is no enforcement mechanism and, as a result, cities ig- nore it. Cities all over this country simply thumb their nose at the law because they know that there is nothing that the federal government can, under the present statutes, do about it.
I introduced into ther House of Representatives, an amendment to each of two different appropriations bills--to the appropriations bill that we were passing for Homeland Secu- rity and another one later for the Department of Justice. Both of my amendments were designed to put some teeth into the law that is already on the books and say that, if a city violates the law that we already have on the books, if it stops the flow of information to the INS or restricts the flow of information from the INS to their local police officers, the city could not apply for Homeland Security grants or grants from the Department of Jus- tice. We got about 120 votes for those two amendments.
And there was a lot of hand-wringing and consternation expressed by members of the House of Representatives over the fact that we were talking about this, and we should probably not be because it is like many immigration issues, and who wants to talk about an immigration issue when we know that there is all this great amount of emotion tied up in the discussion itself. So, the amendment went down. But it is amazing to me that we do have, in fact, laws on the books which we in this body choose not to enforce.
I am sure that many people went home and said, well, I voted for the law that says they cannot do that. I voted for the law that says you cannot stop that kind of information, but they did not want to do anything that would actually enable that law to be enforced.
Next we come to the issue of driver's licenses, or, as they are referred to, "the keys to the kingdom.'' Two years after 19 people used state-issued driver's licenses to board four airplanes and turn them into weapons of mass destruction, it is still possible in many states for anyone to acquire these documents, regardless of immigration status. Even though Virginia, New Jersey, and Florida have tightened up on it a little bit since 9-11, many other states still have very lax laws regarding who can obtain a driver's license from their state.
In the absence of a uniform federal document, state-issued driver's licenses serve the function of providing identity. In addition to granting permission to operate a motor ve- hicle, the licenses are used for banking, for check cashing, for boarding airplanes, for demonstrating proof of employment eligibility, and many other purposes. They are also accepted by immigration inspectors for letting U.S. travelers return to this country after traveling to Canada, Mexico, or a Caribbean destination that does not require a U.S. passport for entry. Thus, it is crucial that states recognize the vital national security role that these documents have come to play.
If there was any question about this, the 9-11 attacks should have put it to rest. Each of the 19 9-11 terrorists possessed one or more state driver's licenses which they used to blend in, rent apartments, open bank accounts, and ultimately to board airplanes that they intended to crash. Yet, not only are driver's licenses still available to illegal aliens in some states, several states are loosening restrictions on obtaining driver's licenses, and even explicitly spelling out that they will permit illegal aliens to receive them.
On September 5, 2003, at 6 o'clock Pacific Standard Time, California Governor Gray Davis signed a bill allowing illegal aliens who reside in California--and there are three to four million right now--to have driver's licenses. He did so on Friday September 5, late in the day, and the original notice of the fact that he was going to do this was a press advi- sory which went out only to the Spanish-speaking media. Apparently, he wanted to avoid having to confront this matter from the standpoint of what the rest of the people of Cali- fornia and of the U.S.A. as a whole would have to say about it and, hopefully, be able to encourage and obtain votes to stop the recall in California and to support him in his ef- fort to stay in office.
Now, issuing drivers' licenses to illegal aliens are actions that are being taken by mem- ber-states of the American federal union, and they are state actions that I believe should not go uncontested by the national government.
I am essentially a "states' righter." I believe that, under the U.S. Constitution, the states have substantial autonomy, that the reserved powers of the states under the Federal Constitution equal a very large sphere of independent and discretionary political author- ity in the hands of the states, authority that, when respected and not usurped by the na- tional government, allows the states home rule, or self-government, in numerous areas of public-policy decisionmaking and action. I have fought for states' rights throughout my entire career in politics. I believe the national government often usurps a lot of the con- stitutional rights, or powers, of the states, and I would not in any way support that kind of arbitrary and unconstitutional activity on the part of the national government. But the actions taken by some states and cities, actions allowing illegal immigrants access to documents that permit them to operate within American society and give them the oppor- tunity to easily do thinga which, if they have the intent to do harm to the United States of America (eg., acts of terrorism, mass murder, sabotage, assassination of government officeholders, guerrilla warfare, etc.) would constitute a serious threat, not just to one or a few states or local communities, but to the American nation as a whole--in other words a serious threat to American national security.
Therefore, the matter of state and local policies which give illegal aliens easy access to American society and the opportunity to operate freely within that society creates a dan- ger to our national security and is not just a state issue. It is clearly and legally a nation- al issue, an issue to be dealt with by the United States government in the exercise of its authority under the Federal Constitution. We in the U.S. Congress should be concerned about this issue. We should take some action to try to assure that, in the absence of any sort of national identification process, the next best thing to a national ID card, a state- issued driver's license, is (1) a valid document and (2) is not a document that can be given to people who are residing in our country illegally.
Now, there are not a lot of ways that the national government can force states to refrain from issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens. If we pass a law saying states must not do it, as with the 1996 bill, some states and localities will do it anyway, if there is no penalty. Hence, we have to look at the penalty side of things. And the penalty side of things al- most always comes down to money.
On September 9, I introduced into the House of Representatives a bill which, if enacted, will begin restricting the availability of federal highway funds to states that allow illegal aliens living within their respective borders to obtain drivers' licenses. I will also be looking at other ways of dealing with this problem, maybe trying to restrict grants under the Homeland Security Act. There are a couple of other things we can do, but, again, it usually turns to the use of funds to get states to do the right thing.
This whole issue of the drivers' licenses is coming on the heels of another sort of peculiar document that is being accepted by many state and local governments and some private corporations and private banking institutions. It is something called the matricula consu- lar. It is a foreign government's ID which it gives to its nationals who reside outside of their own country. The matricula consular is the card that the Mexican government dis- tributes to its nationals living in the United States and other countries. Of course, the Mexican government has the absolute right to do that. No one is suggesting that the government a country, of a sovereign state, does not have the right to hand out any kind of identification to its nationals, if it wishes to do so. But what the the Mexican govern- ment has done, beyond that, is to begin a process of lobbying state and local govern- ments in the United States to get them to accept the card. And they have gone to the banking industry and other private entities to get them to do the same thing, and many banks have done it. Many banks have agreed to accept the matricula consular ID as a form of identification when somebody opens up a bank account.
Now, we have an enormous number of problems with identity theft. We have many prob- lems with people who use the banks to launder drug money, fund terrorist and other sub- versive organizations and activities, and do a whole lot of other things that are harmful to American society. Trying to keep track of these people and their activities is difficult. When you allow people to obtain ID cards from a foreign government, the difficulty is compounded.
By the way, the matricula consular ID card is easily obtained. And this is an interesting little aspect of the situation. There are actually machines in Los Angeles and Chicago, machines which are similar to ATM's and most of which, I think, are installed and main- tained by Mexican Consulates. You can go up to one of these machine and punch in some information. The machine will then produce for you your Mexican birth certificate, which you then bring to the nearest Mexican Consulate and you will be given your ma- tricula consular, which you then take and start the process of entering into American society.
It is all too easy for illegal aliens to do this. Among the illegal aliens easily doing this, are people who have ill intent, people who have criminal and subversive designs, people who have the desire to do very bad things to the United States of America. The process fa- cilitates things for people who have the desire to change their own identity. It accomo- dates and facilitate things for felons who are here among the illegal aliens.
We have arrested people coming into the country illegally and, on their persons, have found many matricula consular cards. Recently we found an Iranian coming in with a Mexican matricula consular card. As I say, these cards are easily obtained. People are actually going around door-to-door and selling them in Los Angeles. The Mexican Con- sulates are distributing them through vans that they send out in the streets of Chicago and other places. These cards are in no way valid forms of ID and should never be thought of as such, and the government of the United States, particularly the Department of Justice abd the Department of Homeland Security, have said the same thing. The U.S Justice and Homeland Security Departments have said you cannot and should not use these things. They have told the other executive departments and agencies in the na- tional government that we should not do it. We are still wrestling with the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury, both of which are not so sure about this mat- ter. But the departments and agencies that have been charged with the security of this nation are sure that the matricular consular cards are not valid documents and should not be used by any department, agency, or office of the national government, nor should they used by any state or local govennmental department, agency, or office. And the cards certainly should not be used by banks for the purposes of identifying people who are opening up accounts.
In California, the bill that was recently signed by Governor Davis says that one of the things that you can use to get your driver's license in California is the matricula consular card. Up and until this point in time, California required that you have a Social Security number to get a driver's license. Although not perfect, this requirement was a fairly good way to make sure that the people you are talking to are the people that they say they are and that they are here legally. Not always, but for the most part, the SSN is one form of identification that helps us make that determination.
Twice before, bills of the same nature were passed by the Legislature in California. And twice they were vetoed by the same Governor, with this reasoning. He said there were not enough security measures in the bill so as to make sure that the state could avoid the problem of misidentifying people who, because of the misidentification, can obtain driv- ers' licenses fraudulently.
The bill that Gray Davis recently signed had had some security provisions in it, including the requirement of a Social Security number. However, the security provisions were all stripped out because of the pressure from the immigration lobby. So the bill he got sim- ply says that, in order to get a driver's license in California, you can use your Social Se- curity number, or a variety of other things, including the matricula consular. You can now obtain a driver's license in California by getting a card from a Mexican Consulate that says you are who you say you are.
By the way, the government of Mexico is not the only foreign government that issues its nationals in the U.S.A. matricula consular cards. Since the Mexican government has be- come very successful in this endeavor, the governments of other foreign countries have realized that the matricula consular is a way of getting around the fact that the U.S. gov- ernment has not very recently given amnesty to illegal aliens in the United States. Other countries, therefore, are now naturally following suit. A number of foreign governments-- mostly governments of Latin American countries--are also handing out matricula consu- lar cards and using them for exactly the same purpose as is the Mexican government.
Early on, I mentioned the little steps we are taking in an effort to try to actually do some- thing about the porous borders that we have--to do something about the fact that there are enormous national security issues revolving around the fact that we have people coming across our borders without our permission and we do not know who they are. Even though we are trying to do something about the problem, we are seeing California and some other states doing just the opposite, making it 10 times more difficult for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to do their jobs. What these states are really doing, is running their own immigration systems and undermining whatever nation- al immigration system we actually have.
What we have here is a situation where it is not just the national government determining the policy of who comes into the U.S.A. and for how long and for what purpose and ex- actly who they are, but now a number of states are developing their own respective immi- gration policies, and getting away with it--and other states could follow the lead of the states that are doing it and getting by with it. Cities throughout the nation are doing the same thing--adopting and carrying out their own immigration policies--and getting away with it. How many different sets of immigration policies are we going to have? How many are going to be enforced? It makes a sham of the entire national immigration system, that is, if we really have a national immigration system.
There are, I think obvious implications to lax border enforcement and confused immigra- tion policy. After 9/11, we should be enormously concerned about it. Even those people who have been reluctant to support immigration reform in the past should be willing to support the national security agenda that includes a tightening up of immigration policy.
I firmly believe that it is high time that the U.S. Congress lived up to its constitutional duty and responsibility to take decisive action to straighten out the immigration mess, action to help pull back immigration policy decisions into the Congress, where, under the U.S. Constitution, they belong, and, in performing this duty and meeting this responsi- bility, to restrict states and local governments from setting their own immigration poli- cies, prevent them from setting their own course in the arena of immigration politics. For the sake of American national security and the survival of our nation, it is essential that we take such action.
Still More on Immigration & Illegal Aliens
Thomas G. Tancredo is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Sixth Congressional District
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