To: Senate Transportation Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2099 (Expiration of Driver’s License for Nonresident Alien)
Date: January 14, 2005

The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes Section 1 and Section 2 of Senate Bill 2099 and urges the committee to delete those sections. Those sections, by singling out certain persons for disparate treatment with regards to nondriver photo identification cards and operator’s licenses, fail to further the interests of justice and public safety.

Issues regarding immigration, domestic security, and public safety are complex and interrelated. They require comprehensive examination and reform, primarily at the federal level. We should avoid piece-meal and localized responses that shift current policies and practices away from legitimate needs. Most importantly, our society must root any response to these issues in basic principles of justice and respect for the dignity for all human persons. These principles are, perhaps, best summarized in a passage from the Old Testament: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34)

These sections fail that test. They single out people – people who are here legally, work in our fields and factories, contribute to the state’s economy, worship in our churches, and drive on our roads -- by requiring what amounts to a “Scarlet Letter” on their state identification and by making that identification dependent upon their immigration status.

What is more troubling is that provisions serve no legitimate purpose. The people affected are still the same persons and they drive just as safe as they did before the arbitrary expiration. In short, the proposed provisions do not further the legitimate state interests providing proof of identity and safe drivers.

The provisions also make little practical sense. For example:

* The provisions will have a negative effect upon those who are currently in the legalization process. As they wait for the federal government to process their case, they will be stripped of their ability to drive and possibly hold employment, which might then affect their cause for legalization. It is important to remember that these proposed sections will probably only impact individuals who are were here legally, were working and contributing to the economy, and plan to stay in North Dakota.

* From a protection and safety standpoint, it is better to have individuals licensed and identified, so we have knowledge of their general location. Law enforcement is hindered when people do not have valid identification. Witnesses fear to come forward. Suspects cannot be traced through standard databases that rely on driver’s licenses. Drivers involved in accidents are more likely to flee the scene.

* Forcing expiration encourages more illegal behavior, such as driving without insurance, manufacturing and purchasing fraudulent identification, and theft that takes advantage of those who were compelled to carry cash due to lack of identification.

* Immigration laws are noncriminal, but extremely complicated. Nonimmigrant visas do not have uniform documentation nor do they have a simple expiration date. This is why immigration officers fully trained for that purpose enforce these laws.

* Training the personnel at the state’s 44 driver’s license sites to interpret the over 26 different immigration statuses and reprogramming the state’s computer system to handle atypical expiration dates will require a significant appropriation of state funds and staff time.

Several statements made in support of the proposed provisions warrant closer examination.

It was stated that the federal government will likely pass legislation to require states to have such provisions. Congress may pass such a law, but at this point such a claim is highly speculative. Similar legislation was introduced in the last two sessions of Congress and never passed. In the most recent case, the proposal was stripped from the “Intelligence Reform” bill. The removal of the provision came not just in response to concerns from religious organizations, but also in response to concerns by law enforcement, agricultural interests, and experts on national security and terrorism.

It was stated that individuals could use identification to board an airplane. It is important to note that other forms of identification are acceptable to board an airplane and that all but one of the hijackers responsible for the September 11 tragedy had a valid driver’s license. These provisions will not stop an individual determined to commit a terrorist act.

It was stated that a person could use the identification to open a bank account. It is not a crime for an undocumented person to open a bank account. Indeed, considering that the people affected by these provisions are working in the state and intend to stay here, why would the state government want to place barriers to keeping money in our state’s banks?

It was also stated that the proposed provisions are part of the whole effort to keep track of people. Providing a method of identification and ensuring safe roads, not keeping track of people, are the primary purposes for providing driver’s licenses and nondriver photo identification cards. These provisions, far from being part of "housekeeping" bill, make policy changes that expand the purpose and scope of the Department's licensing activities.

Besides, the provisions would actually undermine that purported goal. The provisions decrease, rather than increase, the number of persons who have some form of reasonable proof of their identity, making it more difficult to track people and verify their identity. At the same time, law enforcement, banks, employers, schools, and others would be denied the ability to verify identification and residence, eventually undermining the common good.

In summary, the provisions fail to meet principles of justice and fairness, do not accomplish legitimate goals, jeopardize public safety, and require the expenditure of new funds.

We urge the committee to delete Sections 1 and 2 from Senate Bill 2099 or give the bill a “Do Not Pass” recommendation.