Driver's licenses for illegal aliens is bad policy

Thursday, April 25, 2002

The influx of illegal immigrants coming to the United States has been known to immigration officials for years. For much of that time, the focus has been on the U.S.-Mexico border as hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexicans came into the country in search of jobs. In the wake of Sept. 11, it was all too apparent that illegal aliens from other parts of the world also find it easy to enter the country, sometimes using legal means to get here and then hoping the Immigration and Naturalization Service will simply forget about them.

There are lots of reasons illegal immigrants risk the penalties of being in this country illegally. They are desperate for work and for opportunities to make something of themselves. They know the INS is overwhelmed and isn't much of a threat. They know there are employers willing to pay low wages for hard work who will hire illegal immigrants.

One big reason for taking such risks is that, in addition to paying jobs, illegal immigrants can take advantage of most everything else that makes the United States a good place to live: schools, medical care, job training, social services - often with no cash outlay since our federal and state governments provide these services.

Missouri's immigrant population is diverse. And, as a percentage of the state's total population, it is low. But one legislative district in Kansas City has a population that is 27.3 percent Hispanic. And the state representative in that district, Henry Rizzo, is concerned about illegal aliens who drive without a license, proper driving training or auto insurance.

To address these concerns, Rizzo is sponsoring a bill that would allow illegal aliens to get a driver's license. The bill has pretty much slipped through House votes without discussion, including a 117-17 vote in the wee hours after midnight and after a grueling day of legislative activity. Legislators from Southeast Missouri who voted for the bill saw that most of their colleagues were voting for the bill, so they did too. It's an unfortunate fact of legislative reality: This happens a lot.

Another thing that happens a lot is bureaucratic policies that actually make it easier and easier for illegal immigrants not only to stay in the country indefinitely, but to take advantage of more and more services provided by government. Getting a driver's license is just one example. In order to get a license, Rizzo's bill would permit illegal applicants to use an individual taxpayer identification number as identification. ITINs are issued by the Internal Revenue Service to illegal immigrants who can't qualify for a Social Security card.

This expansion of government services for illegal aliens is bad policy.

Undocumented immigrants without driver's licenses wouldn't be a problem if there were good incentives for them to get the documents they need - or leave the country.