Senate Floor remarks by State Senator Toni Boucher regarding HB 6495

May 29, 2013

Senate Floor remark by State Senator Toni Boucher regarding HB 6495, An Act concerning the Issuance of Motor Vehicle Operators Licenses (for undocumented immigrants.) May 29, 2013.

I rise to oppose this bill as ranking member of the transportation committee for the senate.

This bill had a public hearing in New Haven and later was never brought up for a vote in the transportation committee, as it was determined that there was not enough support.

The bill barely passed the House for 21 house members did not cast a vote because they were absent.   If these members were present or in the chamber and voted in the negative – the measure would have likely failed.  It should also be noted that the majority of Connecticut’s general public is opposed to passing this law.  The most recent poll this spring showed that nearly 70% did not feel this could be safely implemented.

Recent reports indicate that four states have recently passed this measure.  However, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Tennessee, and California reversed their decision and no longer allow the privilege of a valid driver’s license to those residents in this country illegally.

The states of New Mexico and Washington are also in the process of repeal or considering repeal.

Changes to reverse their decision have been initiated by both the legislative and executive branches.

The reasons for the opposition are the same for those that oppose this bill in Connecticut.

  1. REAL ID was mandated by the federal gov’t to be enacted by MAY 1 2011. This bill would put us in noncompliance or in conflict with REAL ID that required stricter residency and identification requirements.
  2. High profile identity fraud cases at the CT DMV and other states
  3. Voter fraud especially in light of same dayvoter registration and voting
  4. Magnet for illegal immigration from surrounding states – demographics shows this is often the case.
  5. A concern about undocumented immigrants taking jobs from U.S. Citizens and residents immigrating to U.S. legally.
  6. Consistency with 45 states that do not have this law on the books – making CT, once again, a state not in line with the majority of states on many issues.
  7. Insurance coverage savings – insurance companies throughout the country are stating they have not experienced any savings that are noted in testimony in favor of this bill
  8. Significant political pressure in opposition by the public in the majority of the states.

The concerns raised by many immigrants that have had to wait their turn and go through proper channels which took years to navigate are real and compelling.

There are some in this chamber, including me and my family that are examples of those that have had to take the long arduous legal path to citizenship. My family, like millions of other families, sold all that they had, a small farm, and meager belongings. They had to navigate a complex and difficult labyrinth of paperwork, background checks, sponsorships, proof of identity and document who would be responsible for them, vouch for their character, as well as a notations on the ship’s manifest confirming that a job and an employer was waiting for them on the other side of the ocean.

This maze of legal paperwork was intimidating and frightening for a father who was a farmer with a 5th grade education and a mother without any education.  They were responsible for me and my brother who were 5 and 7 at the time. We were terrified of leaving the only world we knew and thrust into a new environment and culture that was foreign and uncomprehending.

Yet 5 years later, when it was legal to do so we nervously faced a judge in New Haven and proudly became naturalized citizens.  The pain of struggles, obstacles, and prejudice for those who were impoverished and illiterate still linger for so many who worked so hard to overcome the barriers of poverty, language, and discrimination.

This is the same story retold time after time of those who enter this country legally and now find themselves disappointed and even angry over bills such as this one that circumvents the laws of our country.

For immigrants, America represents a country with a body of laws that bring fairness and equality not experienced in their home country or anywhere else in the world. Here they would be judged equally, not as haves and have not’s. They feel that, at least in America, the laws are not just for some, but for all. This bill, however, is in direct conflict with federal law.  I speak for so many in my district that support changes in that federal law – the Dream Act – that would make it possible for a legal path to citizenship.  This would allow immigrants not in CT legally to embark on a path to obtain a valid Connecticut driver’s license.

The President of the US, through an executive order, has already taken a step in this direction by allowing states to provide I.D.’s  to undocumented young people.  Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, this program applies to those who entered this country prior to their 16th birthday, and who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012.  The applicant must currently be in school, or must have completed high school, obtained a GED certificate, or been honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces.

This program has caused confusion among states. Some have implemented this new policy change including Connecticut, while others have successfully removed this provision such as Nebraska and Arizona. Although Arizona was taken to court, the court sided with the state in denying I.D.s to undocumented residents, and that is why it is more imperative that the Dream Act is decided at the federal level, creating a leveled playing field for both undocumented residents, our businesses that would like to employ them, and for our law enforcement officers and our states.

All indications are that a bipartisan effort has been successful in passing The Dream Act in the U.S. Senate. This strong support is remarkable given the division in Congress that exists today and the problems erupting from the scandals at the IRS regarding the targeting of conservative groups and businesses that favor Republicans or donate to them.  Even with this outrage, U.S. Senators can find common ground on the immigration issue.

Connecticut House Republican members proposed a very a good amendment that would establish a task force to study the issue concerning the issuance of motor vehicles operator’s license to individuals who cannot establish legal presence in the U.S.

The amendment would:

  1. Examine logistics required for the DMV
  2. Examine other states policies and procedure
  3. Study the impact on state and local law enforcement
  4. Issues of federal compliance
  5. The impact on federal compliance
  6. The impact of federal immigration reforms as just  mentioned such as The Dream Act and the Federal REAL ID Program
  7. The taskforce would report back on 1/1/2014 in time to enact legislation next year.

The desire to wait for the Dream Act to pass at the federal level is vital, as it relates to public safety at the highest levels and significant fraud that has been experienced in many states.

Background checks are essential as Connecticut has already experienced problems at the DMV in Bridgeport in the aftermath of September 11th.

In 2004 it was reported that the state spent a year trying to catch DMV workers selling fake driver’s license to illegal immigrants – 100’s were sold illegally.  Lawmakers at the time were concerned that Connecticut had become a national clearing for ID Cards for undocumented immigrants. Department employees were charged with accepting bribes in return for licenses.

Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan stated at that time “Of course it is an embarrassment to the state , A HUGE EMBARRESEMENT.  Department officials did not act quickly enough.”

Seven employees at Bridgeport DMV branches pleaded guilty or were convicted.  2,000 illegal licenses were sold by those employees during the time in question.  The employees were charged with racketeering, bribery and forgery.  Rhode Island had similar problems.

States overturning their laws mentioned previously have also seen widespread fraud that is leading them to revise their statutes.

For those too young to remember the nation’s concern about public safety and terrorism in the last decade, they should be reminded.

  • The hijackers successfully entered the United States 33 of 34 times with the first arriving officially on January 15th of 2000. (Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar applied earlier due to the need of training in flight school).
  • In the allotted 6 month tourist tenure that these immigrants were granted, 11 of 19 were able to obtain drivers licenses in various states, 8 obtained valid Florida drivers licenses, 2 obtained valid California, one obtained an Arizona while failing to obtain a valid Virginia Driver’s Licenses  while 14 of 15 operatives and all of the pilots acquired one or multiple forms of other U.S. state issued identification.
  • Compare this to the 90 days in which a current illegal immigrant would have to prove residency in order to obtain issuance of a driver’s licensethat is in this bill.
  • Every example reported in the now declassified government documents describes the fraud in issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. Under certain conditions a tourist stay of one of the hijackers was considered legal residency in the United States:
      • Yet the immigrant overstayed their visa
      • The immigrant never files an application to change his/her visa status when, for example, changing occupation (i.e. from tourist to student or vice versa)
      • They obtained their visas through fraudulent identities
  • Some would argue that under the present day’s security provisions, the assailants responsible for the 9/11 attacks would have been cleared to enter the country and receive driver’s licenses and other forms of identification because they all entered the United States legally.
      • Technically none of them came legally because they all committed fraud on their visa applications
      • More importantly, though, at least two of them overstayed their visas and remained here illegally
      • Both Nawaf al Hazmi (one of the four hijackers of Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon) and Hani Hanjour (the pilot of Flight 77 who is believed to have murdered the real pilot by slitting his throat with a box cutter) were unlawfully present in the United States when they obtained driver’s licenses and/or ID cards.
  • Additionally, the REAL ID Act includes provisions which would not have stopped these terrorists because again, they apparently entered the United States Legally.
      • As this is a case of serious fraud, what would prevent current illegal aliens in committing fraud as simple as offering an incomplete or inaccurate email address to the DMV to prove their 90 day tenure, or by offering a different name?
      • As these Al Qaeda operatives were able to slip past Security provisions in the U.S. after A THREAT ADVISORY WAS IMMEDIATELY SENT BY THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE (INS) CALLED FOR A “HARD INSPECTION OF CERTAIN VISITORS FROM MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRIES IF THESE PEOPLE WERE REFERRED TO A SECONDARY INSPECTION, (which a few of the terrorists were) what would prevent this from happening in the future given the new process that would be put in place by passing this bill?
  • If United States security provisions could not stop illegal immigrants from obtaining driver licenses and other forms of identification in 2000 and 2001, and as it has been speculated again and again that these assailants would be able to acquire similar ID even after the REAL ID Act. It would be very difficult for current U.S. immigration officials to prove fraud by the very few but dangerous immigrants bent on perpetrating a crime and to prevent the issuance of drivers licenses to them.
  • Looking back on the attacks of 9/11, a similar attack could be unintentionally facilitated with lower oversight, precautions and regulations in obtaining valid IDs.   In fact this is what has led to the federal government mandating Connecticut to enact the REAL ID program which strengthened identification and residency requirements by May 11, 2011.  Again, this is a major reason we should proceed cautiously and have a system in place after congress passes The Dream Act that includes a system of background checks.

Let’s briefly review the issues and concerns of some of the lines in the bill (review the bill)

In summary, some of the major problems with the bill includes:

  1. Residency required is only 90 days leading to Connecticut becoming a magnet for neighboring states residents.  This is a reason that other states are reversing their policies.
  2. It breaks Federal Laws in lines 52-54 as one cannot file for legal status unless the person returns to their home country.
  3. A felon from another state can obtain a valid licensee in Connecticut but not a felon from Connecticut.
  4. These licenses cannot be used for voting, and employment benefits.  Yet, this provision is impossible to enforce as a simple notation on the back of a driver’s license, just like the restriction for eye glasses is difficult to locate.   For proper enforcement a notation should be placed on the front – this bill DOES NOT do this!
  5. Valid for 3-6 years not two years, as is the custom for VISA’s and other visitors to our country or conterminous with their stay in this country.
  6. EXPIRED passports can be a form of ID in this legislation.
  7. Should not be enacted on a state by state basis but dealt with on a federal level.

Concluding Remarks –

Connecticut is a small state and our people work across state lines every day.  They travel extensively around the country and around the globe.  If there was ever an issue that should be legislated at the federal level, this is it. A driver’s license is the universal form of identification for all activities.  That is why it is so sought after and forged illegally in order to perpetrate criminal and terrorist activities.  It is also the reason why we should be extremely cautious in how driver’s licenses are provided, and should not be done in a way which skirts federal law and careful oversight. That is the reason why this legislation should be delayed until a thorough study can be conducted and the federal government can provide an actual legal path through the Dream Act. The Dream Act is a process for full citizenship that would grant our undocumented residents with the full rights and privileges which they work so hard to attain.  After all, I am an immigrant, just like them.  I had to follow the law, but my family and I had to wait our turn.

Let’s stop turning our backs on the rule of law that weaken our democracy. We need to support our immigrants population by showing the WHOLE country is behind them by strengthening our federal laws.