Harold Johnson- Columnist
Johnson is an attorney with Pacific
Legal Foundation. A Sacramento-based public-interest
law firm, PLF has a long history of litigating for tax restraint,
including in support of Proposition 13 following its enactment
License Law Sideswipes the Constitution
Pacific Legal Foundation takes on licenses for illegals...
[Harold Johnson and William Mount] 11/14/03
Consider the California
driver’s license. What an E-ticket
item it is! Besides letting you tool down the freeways, in many
cases it’s all the ID you need to borrow a video, buy groceries
...or board an airliner. So when California Gov. Gray Davis signed
SB 60, allowing driver’s licenses for people who are here
in violation of immigration rules, he was presenting the keys
to the city—and the state and the nation—to folks
flouting federal law.
Is it legal for state
officials to do that? So far, debate over SB 60 has focused
on its policy implications.
Giving a pass to people who come here by cutting corners, critics
argue, isn’t fair to aspiring immigrants who play by the
rules. And in this Age of Al Quaida—with red, orange and
yellow alerts putting people on edge—it flashes a dangerous
green light to people who might come here with sinister intentions.
beyond these practical concerns, questions of law must be addressed.
This is what Pacific Legal Foundation does in litigation, and
on November 10 filed a lawsuit to void California’s new
scheme giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Representing
Latino Americans for Immigration Reform, a Santa Ana-based advocacy
group, PLF makes three legal arguments:
SB 60 intrudes on federal
authority over immigration.
The United States
Constitution gives Congress sole responsibility for setting
a “uniform rule
of naturalization.” As
the Supreme Court put it in a 1971 ruling, it’s the role
of the federal government—not the states—to determine “what
aliens shall be admitted to the United States, the period they
may remain [and] regulation of their conduct before naturalization.”
60 violates this rule by treading on Congress’s turf. A
driver’s license is the closest thing we have to a national
ID card. It eases an individual’s movement and day-by-day
functioning anywhere in the country. For California to give what
amounts to an internal passport to people who aren’t in
the United States legally, is the practical equivalent of setting
up its own, state-level protocol for immigration. This directly
challenges the federal government’s constitutional power
to say who may come in to the country, for how long, and on what
SB 60 promotes vote fraud.
Under the federal “Motor
Voter” law, applicants for
driver’s licenses must also receive voting registration
forms. With SB 60 inviting illegal aliens to the DMV, this means
they’ll be getting voter registration forms as well. And
why should we expect that people who are already breaking immigration
laws will scruple about registering to vote, no matter what fine
print is printed on the registration form? Bottom line: SB 60
makes it more likely that illegal immigrants will get on the
voting rolls, so their votes can, unconstitutionally, cancel
out the votes of American citizens.
SB 60 illegally restricts
information-sharing with federal authorities.
SB 60 prevents the
DMV, except in limited circumstances, from releasing to anyone,
including federal immigration and homeland
security authorities, information about the use of taxpayer ID
numbers by driver’s license applicants. A taxpayer ID would
be used by someone who isn’t eligible for a Social Security
numbers—which means, in most cases, someone who’s
not in the country legally.
Federal law prohibits
any restriction on a state sharing information on any individual’s immigration
status with immigration officials, the Department of Homeland
Security and other agencies. Federal law also prohibits shielding
illegal aliens from detection, or inducing persons to enter or
reside in the country illegally. California violates all of these
restrictions when it gives driver’s licenses to illegal
aliens and holds back information from the feds.
The United States
is, proudly, a nation of newcomers. But it is also a nation of
laws. Indeed, it is that unshakable fact that has made the United
States free and prosperous, drawing the “tired, poor”—and
eager and ambitious—from around the globe. If this nation
is to remain a beacon of hope for immigrants, it must always
reaffirm the rule of law. An essential step, right now, is to
strike down SB 60.
Harold Johnson and William S. Mount are attorneys
with Pacific Legal Foundation. They are counsel for Latino
Americans for Immigration Reform in the lawsuit challenging SB