Driver's License Curtailed as Identification

By T.R. Reid and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 17, 2005

WEST VALLEY, Utah -- In the two years since she got her Utah driver's license, Guadalupe Camarillo notes with obvious pride, she has had no accidents, no moving violations and no parking tickets. "I drive so careful, I've never even been stopped," she beams.

But Camarillo is about to lose her license. The cleaning woman from Michoacan, Mexico, is among tens of thousands of illegal immigrants whose licenses will be voided under a state law that took effect March 8.

A precursor to the "Real ID Act" pending in the U.S. Senate, the Utah law gives undocumented workers such as Camarillo "driving privilege cards" instead of licenses. The document authorizes driving but declares in bold red letters that it cannot be used as legal identification.

Many Hispanics, including U.S. citizens, are outraged by the change. "You work hard, you pay the same taxes as anybody else, but the state legislature brands you as second-rate," noted veteran activist John Florez of Salt Lake City. "I'm sorry to say it, but the real point here is racism."

Responds state Sen. Curtis S. Bramble (R), who sponsored the new state law: "Tell me how granting a privilege to somebody who is here illegally can be called punitive. We are letting people drive. They can get [auto] insurance. But they can't use this card to buy firearms or serve on a jury or vote. Those are rights for citizens."

The restrictions that undocumented immigrants face in Utah could be felt nationwide if Congress passes the Real ID Act. The legislation cleared the House in February and faces debate on the Senate floor that may begin this week.

The legislation would compel states to painstakingly verify documents submitted for driver's licenses -- birth certificates, utility bills, Social Security numbers and other records -- in an effort to prevent terrorists from obtaining the papers they need to blend into society. But it also would affect undocumented immigrants, such as Camarillo, who lack green cards or visas, yet hold jobs.

The legislation would also authorize completion of a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego and make it more difficult for asylum seekers to gain citizenship. In effect, critics say, the Real ID Act would be the nation's most powerful anti-immigrant legislation in decades.

Its sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), said Real ID is an effort to adopt some of the recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The panel found that terrorists had studied the asylum process and driver's license fraud as ways to enter and move freely about the United States.

While the Bush administration has expressed support for the Real ID Act, White House officials are concerned that debate over the issue on the Senate floor could stall the higher-priority spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to which the House legislation is attached.

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) wants to protect illegal immigrant farmworkers by granting them permanent citizenship. His proposal could lead to a flurry of other amendments and spark a wide-ranging debate on national immigration policy, taking time from the war bill that is a higher priority for the White House.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he supports Real ID in its current form, but he acknowledged that many colleagues do not. Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced last week that they plan to craft legislation to address their own immigration concerns: border security and a guest-worker plan that would grant limited amnesty to illegal immigrants who currently work in the United States, which President Bush has endorsed.

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