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U.S. flights still open to illegal immigrants

Location: Los Angeles, CA

From the Los Angeles Daily News:

U.S. flights still open to illegal immigrants

By Elton Gallegly
Guest Columnist

When President George W. Bush signed the Real ID Act into law on May 11, we took a step forward in correcting major holes in our security. But major holes remain, and it's time to take the next step.

Among other things, the Real ID Act sets minimum security criteria that states would have to meet to have their driver's licenses accepted as identification to board a commercial flight or enter federal facilities. States may still choose to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but these licenses would have to be identified by color or design as such. If a state does not comply with these standards, licenses from that state would not be acceptable for federal purposes.

Specifically, to be acceptable to board a commercial airliner or enter a federal facility, license applicants would be banned from using foreign documents, such as consular identification cards, to obtain a driver's license. Consular cards are issued by foreign governments to their nationals in the United States. There is no attempt to determine whether the person obtaining the card is legally in the United States and, in fact, the only people who need these cards are illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists. No one denies this fact.

Consular cards are easily obtained with no proof of true identity and are easily forged. Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, made that point last month when she presented consular cards to members of the House Homeland Security Committee with their names, addresses and photos.

That's why consular cards are no longer acceptable to obtain a federally acceptable driver's license. But there's a problem. Illegal immigrants don't need a driver's license to fly. Even with the passage of the Real ID Act, illegal immigrants can still use a consular card to board a commercial airliner in the United States.

Last year, Congress ordered the Department of Homeland Security to develop criteria on what forms of identification would be acceptable to board commercial flights or enter federal facilities. Officials have yet to act, so it is imperative that Congress acts.

In testimony before a congressional committee earlier this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the FBI has identified a route through Brazil that illegal immigrants from al-Qaida nations use to obtain false identities—including assuming Hispanic names—before heading for Mexico and the U.S. border. While no one in the intelligence community will say publicly whether or not any terrorists have been captured along our southern border, all are warning that it is a serious loophole in our Homeland Security net.

The administration estimates that 60,000 to 90,000 criminal illegal immigrants managed to gain access to the United States in an eight-month period last year. According to one of my Democratic colleagues, Rep. Solomon Ortiz of Texas, the number of illegal immigrants who are not Mexican nationals and were apprehended along our southern border last year increased by 137 percent. It is clear that terrorists have the means and the motive to come here, obtain a consular card and use it to kill Americans.

That's why I have reintroduced the Identification Security Act. Under this bill, the only identification issued by a foreign government that would be acceptable to board a commercial flight or enter a federal facility would be a passport. All other forms of identification would be prohibited.

Congress has greatly tightened the loopholes terrorists can use to harm Americans. We need to do more. We need controls immediately on what forms of ID are adequate to board planes and enter secure sites.

Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, is a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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