Our activities include producing factual information addressing public safety and fraud prevention benefits of stronger identity authentication procedures and the issuance of counterfeit proof identity documents. CSDL undertakes research projects addressing best practices for DMVs, fraud detection and prosecution and related identity management topics.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, it was revealed that 18 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks held over thirty valid driver’s licenses and ID cards issued by five states. The reason that the terrorists had obtained so many state IDs was to escape detection by airport security systems that use passport data to check foreign visitors against federal watch lists.
CSDL was established in November, 2001, because of apparent indifference by state and federal officials to this security vulnerability. CSDL seeks to educate the public and elected officials regarding the critical importance of higher driver’s license identity and physical security standards. CSDL supports strengthening driver’s license rules at the state level so state officials do not issue licenses to anyone who will not provide substantive proof of identity, regardless of the applicants’ reason for not doing so. In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The Commission called for strong and uniform national standards for authenticating the identities of driver’s license applicants.
CSDL played a key role in public education to gain Congressional support for the REAL ID Act, now entitled Public Law 109-13. If states wish to issue drivers’ licenses below that standard, then those drivers’ license must be boldly marked as to be “not for identification purposes” so airport inspectors and law enforcement personnel know that those holding such documents may not be who they claim to be.
There is ample opportunity for future terrorists to hide among illegal alien communities. It is estimated that 40% of the twelve million or so illegal aliens in the United States entered legally with visas or other legal admissions and have intentionally overstayed those visas. This hard data illustrates the problem.
While all 9/11 terrorists entered the United States with visas, several overstayed their visas and became illegal aliens. Had the terrorists’ plans been further delayed, all would have become illegal aliens before crashing into the towers. Many such illegal aliens have valid driver's licenses because in a majority of states, foreign visitors with passports and visas can easily obtain them and those licenses are not limited to the term of the holders' visas. PL 109–13 requires that practice to end, but compliance by the states is not mandatory.
It will be up to the voters of each state to convince state officials and elected state legislators to take action to comply with the federal law. CSDL does not take a position on federal immigration policy, while recognizing that those who oppose immigration law enforcement often also oppose state procedures that confirm the authentic identities of applicants before issuing driver’s licenses and ID cards. After the passage of the REAL ID Act, many thought the battle was over. To the contrary, even while a 2007 ITAA poll shows 85% of American adults favor a secure driver’s license, implementation of the REAL ID regulations for licenses is being vigorously opposed by well-funded special interest and extremist groups campaigning against it at the state level. Despite the continued discovery of foreign terrorist cells in places like Florida, New York, New Jersey and Michigan, many state legislators have joined with the ACLU and the anti-Real ID coalition into opposing implementation of PL 109-13.
We cannot let this happen.
If we allow the extreme edges of right and left to succeed, the safety of all Americans will remain threatened by foreign terrorists masquerading as tourists, foreign students, and illegal alien immigrants. Security is our main concern.
However, national security is not the only benefit of states complying with Public Law 109 -13. Authenticating identity of driver's license applicants will keep drunks and reckless drivers from getting new licenses under assumed or changed names, help prevent underage drinking and smoking, reduce voter fraud, help protect against identity theft, help law enforcement find deadbeat dads, and unmask sexual predators using fraudulent identities to hide from arrest warrants and sex offender requirements.
Despite the lessons learned, terrorists can still fraudulently obtain valid driver’s licenses, even simultaneously from multiple states, just as they did before 9/11.
We must get a handle on who deserves the privilege of receiving a driver’s license and who does not. To maintain the status quo is unacceptable.