2007-09-26 / Editorials

Why I Oppose Resident ID Cards


Our society has gone through great pains to keep this country safe from those that would harm us. Men and women- whether wearing camouflage in Iraq or blue and gold on the streets of New York- risk their lives every day to hunt down terrorists and expose their deadly plots. I am, therefore, very concerned that several proposals are floating around our city and state that can make the job of these brave people much more difficult.

Months ago, members of the City Council proposed an idea to create a resident ID card, available to nearly anyone regardless of immigration status. Then, just last week, Governor Eliot Spitzer announced that he plans to institute a similar system, allowing state residents to apply for drivers' licenses without a Social Security number. I strongly oppose these measures, believing we should not put the convenience of some above the lives of many.

The purpose of the resident ID cards, proponents say, is to extend government services to people who have illegally entered our country, and who otherwise would be deprived of driving and library privileges due to their immigration status. Perhaps before 9/11, these proposals could be worthy of debate between people with good intentions on both sides, but now our first concern must be keeping our children safe from attacks. In short, the public safety concerns these cards raise should trump any potential merits they could offer.

The facts speak for themselves. Five of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks were living in this country in violation of our immigration laws. In the previous bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, nine perpetrators were here illegally. In nearly every completed or foiled terrorist attack, the suspect group includes some who have sneaked into the country and others who have overstayed their visas.

These murderers were able to board planes and transport dangerous materials easily by using fake names and identification, and the government has gone to great lengths to close the loopholes that made that possible. These cards remove an obstacle that terrorists need to overcome before they are able to commit their terrible acts. We let our guard down once; we cannot afford to do it again.

People disagree about the best means to secure our borders. However, this is a national issue on which our country needs to speak with one voice. Individual states and municipalities should not be undermining national policy and sending mixed signals to the rest of the world.

I am not convinced by the arguments for resident ID cards issued without regard to an applicant's immigration status and drivers' licenses issued to people who did not present Social Security cards to obtain them. I believe that they will make it easier, not for security and police officers to locate terrorists, but for terrorists to blend in and evade these officers.

There are millions of immigrants of all types in our country, and the vast majority of them are hard working and peaceful. For more than a century, New York has welcomed immigrants from all backgrounds, a tradition that continues to the present day. But, sadly, it only takes a small number of people to inflict an enormous amount of damage, and therefore we must be careful of the manner in which we extend our welcoming hand.

There are better, safer ways to be friendly to the immigrant population, many of them already in place. City services, including the New York City Police Department officers, do not inquire about immigrant status. Free medical care is available, as is public transportation, without any form of identification at all.

All of us who live here have been forced to surrender many of the conveniences and civil liberties that we hold dear in order to combat terrorism. As our bags are searched before we enter the subway and we stand on long security lines at the airport, we understand that our lives have changed and these precautions are necessary. In the post-9/11 world, the primary concern of the government should be the safety of its citizens. Issuing resident identification cards and drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants indicate we are putting other matters, such as illegal immigrants' convenience, ahead of American lives.

City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. represents the 22nd City Council District in Astoria.

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