Feds respond to California license issue

| 9/12/2003

The Department of Homeland Security is concerned about a new California law allowing illegal immigrants to apply for driver's licenses because border inspectors often depend on licenses to establish U.S. citizenship, according to press reports.

After Gov. Gray Davis' decision to sign the law last week – a move that's now a major issue in the state's recall election – the Department of Homeland Security said it would adjust inspector training and review policies regarding driver's licenses, said Asa Hutchinson, the agency's undersecretary for border and transportation security.

“It will place a greater burden and more difficulty on our inspectors at the border,” Hutchinson said in an interview after a U.S. Senate hearing on the terrorism threat posed by fraudulent driver's licenses and other documents.

Driver's licenses are often used to establish citizenship when people are returning to the United States from countries that do not require a passport to visit, such as Mexico and Canada.

Meanwhile, a General Accounting Office report released Sept. 9 showed vulnerability in the driver's license application process in California and elsewhere, but the focus was on fraud.

The report debuted during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. Legislators learned investigators using fictitious names, Social Security numbers and birth dates, along with counterfeit out-of-state licenses and other documents, obtained driver's licenses in California, six other states and the District of Columbia.

Linda Lewis, president and chief executive of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents officials who run state motor-vehicle agencies, told senators that driver's licenses are “one of the biggest loopholes in the U.S. national security system.”