WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Wednesday the REAL ID Act would repeal safeguards against terrorism that were included in last year’s Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act and should be kept out of the conference report for the supplemental spending bill.
The REAL ID Act – authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., and containing provisions rejected by Congress last year – would repeal provisions recommended by the 9/11 Commission to ensure that people who apply for drivers’ licenses are actually who they say they are. The REAL ID Act would instead impose unrealistic and unfunded requirements on states to verify identification documents, slowing down the issuance of drivers’ licenses to everyone. In addition, it includes anti-immigration and anti-asylum provisions which the 9/11 Commission has said are unrelated to the war on terrorism.
“Do not be fooled,” Lieberman said in a statement submitted for the Congressional record. “Our nation is safer if we implement the protections we passed just last December. We must not allow an ideological debate over immigration policy to derail initiatives vital to the war against terrorism.”
The REAL ID Act is included in the House, but not the Senate, version of the supplemental spending bill which includes additional funding for the war in Iraq and for tsunami victims.
Following is text of Senator Lieberman’s floor statement:
I rise to speak in opposition to the House legislation known as the REAL ID Act, and to urge that it not be included in the conference report for this spending bill. Last year Congress enacted comprehensive anti-terrorism legislation, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Some of the most important provisions we enacted strengthen our borders against terrorist infiltration, and provide the government with new weapons in tracking terrorist travel around the globe. The Act also requires minimum federal standards to ensure that state issued drivers’ licenses are always secure and reliable forms of identification.
The REAL ID Act would repeal much of our work from last year, and replace it with provisions that impose on state governments unworkable standards for drivers’ licenses. The REAL ID Act also includes punitive immigration provisions that we rejected last year, and that have no place on an emergency spending bill. Do not be fooled. Our nation is safer if we implement the protections we passed just last December. We must not allow an ideological debate over immigration policy to derail initiatives vital to the war against terrorism.
Last year I was privileged to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers to develop anti-terrorism and intelligence reform legislation that we can all be proud of. Among other things, the Intelligence Reform Act called for large increases in the numbers of Border Patrol agents, immigration enforcement agents, and detention beds. It strengthened consular procedures for screening visa applicants. It closed a gaping vulnerability by requiring people entering the United States at our land borders to show a passport. And it required minimum federal standards to ensure that state issued drivers’ licenses are always secure and reliable forms of identification.
At the same time, I joined with my fellow conferees to ensure that the Intelligence Reform bill focused on genuine anti-terrorism measures and excluded extraneous measures. In particular, in conference we rejected a number of anti-asylum and anti-immigration provisions. The REAL ID Act simply recycles several of the controversial immigration provisions which we rejected last year. When the REAL ID Act was debated on the House floor this year many of its supporters claimed that these provisions had been recommended by the 9/11 Commission, and are essential to the war on terrorism. That is simply not the case.
Last October, the 9/11 Commissioners made clear that the immigration provisions in the House bill were irrelevant to fighting terrorism. I would like to quote from a letter the conferees received from Governor Thomas Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton, a letter that reflected the unanimous view of the Commissioners. Referring to the House provisions on immigration, they said, and I quote: “We believe strongly that this bill is not the right occasion for tackling controversial immigration and law enforcement issues that go well beyond the Commission’s recommendations. We note in this regard that some of these provisions have been advocated in response to Commission recommendations. They are not Commission recommendations.” The Commissioners then added, and I quote again: “We believe we are better off with broad bipartisan agreement on key recommendations of the Commission in support of border security than taking up a number of controversial provisions that are more central to the question of immigration policy than they are to the question of counterterrorism.”
As the Commissioners made clear, the provisions in the REAL ID Act have more to do with immigration than with national security. These are controversial provisions that need to be fully considered by our Judiciary Committee. The legislation would make it harder for refugees fleeing oppressive regimes to get asylum. That provision doesn’t target terrorists because current law already states that no member of a terrorist organization can be eligible for asylum. The REAL ID Act would suspend habeas corpus review in deportation proceedings. Not since the Civil War has habeas corpus been suspended. The House bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive all laws so that fences and barriers can be built on any of our land borders. There is no limitation as to what laws can be waived – environmental laws, labor laws, laws allowing property owners to be compensated for the confiscation of their land. These provisions have serious negative consequences and should be more carefully considered. I do not believe they could ever be enacted if they were carefully considered with our normal procedures.
I would also like to address the provisions in the REAL ID Act that would establish new federal standards for drivers’ licenses. My colleagues no doubt remember that just last December Congress enacted standards for drivers’ licenses, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission, to ensure drivers’ licenses are secure and identities are verified. The standards are now being implemented through a rulemaking, in which state governments are given a seat at the table to share their expertise. These legislative standards were a great accomplishment, a result of fine work done by Senators McCain, Durbin, Collins, Alexander and other colleagues. Last year the Administration declared that the Senate’s provisions were preferable to those drafted by the House, and the 9/11 Commission endorsed them.
The REAL ID Act would repeal the work Congress did last year. It would replace our provisions with much more rigid provisions from last year’s House bill. The provisions are so unrealistic that states could not implement them. All Americans applying for drivers’ licenses would have to wait for weeks while state DMVs tried to confirm the authenticity of paper birth certificates and other records, records filed away at county offices across the country. State governments would have no opportunity to provide input for the regulations, as they have under current law.
That’s why the state government organizations think the REAL ID Act is a terrible idea. The National Governors’ Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have all announced their strong opposition to the REAL ID Act. The organizations have written to Congressional leadership that the REAL ID Act would impose requirements on state governments which, and I quote, “are beyond the current capacity of even the federal government.” The state government groups have asked that the law we passed last December be given a chance to work. I ask unanimous consent that a joint letter from these four organizations be entered into the Congressional Record following the conclusion of my remarks.
When the state governments of our nation say that these drivers’ license provisions are unworkable, we need to take notice. State governments have been issuing drivers’ licenses for decades. They are the experts, and we will need their input and coordination if we are going to implement the drivers’ license standards recommended by the 9/11 Commission.
I urge my colleagues to oppose the REAL ID Act. We must ask our Senate conferees not to allow such a controversial measure to be pushed through Congress on an emergency spending bill. The REAL ID Act contradicts our historic identity as a nation that provides haven for the oppressed. The REAL ID Act would not make us safer. It would make us less safe. It would repeal provisions enacting a central recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and it would undermine a vital counterterrorism initiative.
I yield the floor.