Strange Bedfellows Battle National ID Plan

A coalition of 600 organizations reflecting views across the political spectrum on Thursday launched a last-minute lobbying blitz urging Congress to scuttle a proposal to federalize driver’s licenses.

Colleen Kelly, co-director of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a coalition participant, said the legislation setting national standards for states issuing driver’s licenses will do little to make Americans safer.

Kelly, whose brother Brian died in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, said stringent new driver’s-license requirements outlined in the House-passed Real ID Act would not have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

She noted that Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 terrorists, was stopped in Florida and cited for driving without a license, while the 13 other terrorists who had U.S. driver’s licenses were admitted legally to the United States and would not be prevented from getting licenses if the Real ID Act were in place.

“We want nothing less than real security,” Kelly said, contending the assaults were a product of intelligence failures, not flaws in the American system of issuing driver’s licenses. She said families of the 9/11 victims are divided over the issue of federalizing driver’s licenses and acknowledged that some relatives support the measure.

President Bush embraced the legislation Tuesday in a letter to a House-Senate conference committee considering including it in a supplemental spending bill.

The Real ID Act would require state motor-vehicle offices to verify the identity of people receiving driver’s licenses, including their date of birth and legal residence. County courthouses would be required to take new steps to safeguard birth and citizenship records, and state administrators would have to verify the legal immigration status of any alien seeking a driver’s license.

Cheye Calvo of the National Conference of State Legislatures said the Real ID Act sets procedures that are too stringent, and he predicted it would paralyze motor-vehicle offices, which give out 70 million licenses a year.

“States have been doing driver’s licenses for almost 100 years, and we should have had some say in this rather than this federal, one-size-fits-all, we-know-best solution,” he said.

Calvo said citizens will have to prove their identity before they can get the new licenses, and aliens will have to show they are living in the United States legally. He said the State Department issues 75 different visas, and there’s no way state officials can verify what visas aliens are using to live in the United States.

“These unworkable, rigid requirements are going to invalidate driver’s licenses for a lot of purposes,” he said. “It affects everyone who goes to a DMV, and it threatens to make it a nightmare.”

Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said organizations ranging from the AFL-CIO to the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights are opposing the proposal.

“We are from the left, the right, and the center, and we have Latino-rights, civil-rights and equal-rights groups represented,” she said.

The groups participating are listed at

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)