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Identification Need More Urgent Than Ever


Location: Washington, DC

Identification Need More Urgent Than Ever

By Rep. Elton Gallegly

Once again, people illegally in the United States have been arrested in connection with a terrorist plot. And once again, some of the key players had repeated run-ins with local law enforcement agencies. Yet, their legal status in this country was never questioned.

Brothers Eljvir Duka, 23, Shain Duka, 26, and Dritan Duka, 28, are not from a terrorist country. In fact, their Albanian countrymen are among the United States' most loyal friends. Albanians also are not known to be religious fanatics. But bad apples come from all parts of the world. The Duka brothers were arrested on charges of plotting to kill as many American servicemen and women as they possibly could at Fort Dix, N.J., to fulfill a radical Islamic jihad.

Like millions of illegal immigrants from countries friendly and unfriendly to the United States, they easily blended into our tolerant society. They were also, according to published reports, "habitual offenders" who were stopped by police dozens of times a year. Two of the brothers were convicted of drug violations. Yet, they were released back into U.S. society as if they had a right to be here.

They paid back our nation's generosity and tolerance by plotting to attack our military men and women.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on May 10, and I asked him about the catch-and-release programs on our nation's roads and highways. I pointed out to Gonzales that this was eerily similar to Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringmaster, who had been stopped by Florida law enforcement officials a month before flying a plane into the World Trade Center. His answer that identifying and detaining illegal immigrants was an ongoing problem of resources and cooperation among agencies was not very reassuring.

One tool to help local law enforcement officials to identify illegal immigrants when they've broken yet more of our laws is the Real ID Act, which Congress passed two years ago based on a key recommendation from the 9/11 commission. Unfortunately, the Real ID Act is now under fire by some senators and representatives, and in some state legislatures. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are acting at the behest of those who are more interested in protecting the presumed rights of lawbreakers than they are in protecting the lives of innocent Americans.

Contrary to the scare tactics from the supporters of illegal immigration, the Real ID Act does not establish a national ID card. It does set 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, and makes it more difficult for terrorists to stay in the United States by requesting asylum.

States may still choose to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but their licenses would have to be identified by color or design as such. If the state does not comply with these standards, licenses from that state would not be acceptable for federal purposes.

But it will be the states that collect the information and issue the cards. Except for information already in federal hands such as Social Security numbers no information will be transmitted to the federal government. And the law specifies that privacy concerns be addressed in the storage of information in state databases and encrypted into the cards, and in any connections between databases.

But having secure driver's licenses is only a tool. As I told Gonzales, having the laws is not the problem. Having the will to enforce the law often is the problem. And until we insist that all law-enforcement officers enforce the laws of the United States, we will have to rely on computer store clerks to act against potential terrorists.

That was unacceptable to the 9/11 commission, and it's unacceptable to me.

Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, represents the 24th Congressional District. He is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and chairman of the 1995 Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform. He has introduced 11 bills this year targeting illegal immigration.

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