Senator Marsha Blackburn on Wednesday said she is introducing legislation that delivers tough financial consequences to states that flout federal immigration enforcement and harm public safety and national security. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) are cosponsoring the legislation and Rep. Ken Buck (CO-04) is leading 21 members in introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
The Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act blocks certain federal funds to sanctuary states, including states that defy federal immigration enforcement or that allow illegal aliens to get driver licenses without proof of lawful presence.
"Tennesseans know all too well what can happen when illegal immigrants are granted driver licenses,” said Senator Blackburn. “While Tennessee and many other states prohibit driver licenses for illegal aliens, a growing number of states are moving in the opposite direction and unleashing dangerous open borders policies. Immigrants must follow the proper federal process and obtain citizenship or lawful status before obtaining a state driver license. In America, no one is above the law.”
Officials said Senator Blackburn’s legislation is the latest in a string of efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities and states and ensure that state and local governments are cooperating with immigration enforcement officials. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would be cutting New York out of the Global Trusted Traveler program following a new state law prohibiting immigration agents from accessing motor vehicle records. On Monday, Attorney General Bill Barr announced multiple lawsuits against sanctuary jurisdictions.
In 2018, 22-year-old Pierce Corcoran of Knoxville, was fatally struck in a head-on collision caused by an illegal alien who was later deported. In 2019, another Knoxville resident, Debbie Burgess, was killed in a hit and run accident caused by an illegal alien with a lengthy criminal history.
“We shouldn’t legitimize those who break our immigration laws by giving them driver licenses," said Senator Cotton. "Unfortunately, states like California give illegal immigrants driver licenses and help them hide from federal law. Our bill will make sure that federal grants will only go to states who uphold our rule of law.”
“States granting licenses to illegal immigrants undermine our immigration laws and threaten public safety,” said Senator Cramer. “Our legislation imposes real consequences on states which ignore federal law but still take millions in federal funds. It’s a commonsense step toward making America more safe.”
“West Virginians believe that our immigration laws should be enforced,” said Senator Capito, chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “State governments should not circumvent—or blatantly obstruct—federal immigration law by providing driver licenses to those who choose to enter this country in violation of our laws. I am pleased to join Senator Blackburn in introducing this common sense bill that penalizes states whose actions are antithetical to the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
“As we’ve seen time and time again, there are real public safety risks and tragic consequences that arise when cities or states refuse to help enforce immigration laws,” said Senator Loeffler. “Sanctuary states are evading federal laws and providing safe havens for illegal immigrants, some of which have criminal records. This is unacceptable and these states should face consequences for their dangerous policies. That’s why I’m proud to join this effort to reduce funding for states that needlessly endanger public safety by enacting policies that directly contradict federal law.”
“When our immigration laws go unenforced, our communities are less safe,” said Senator Joni Ernst, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “These laws are on the books for a reason and it is inexcusable for them to be ignored. Our bill simply ensures that law enforcement across the country works to get criminals off the streets, to protect our nation, and to keep our communities safe.”
"We are a nation of laws," said Senator Rounds. "If state and local governments fail to uphold our laws that seek to stop dangerous criminals and keep families safe, there should be consequences. These laws are on the books to improve public safety and strengthen national security. I support withholding access to certain federal grants if states don’t comply with these federal statutes."
“Just last year in my home state of Colorado, Sean Buchanan, a loving father of five, was struck and killed by Miguel Ramirez Valiente, an illegal immigrant who was driving under a suspended state-issued driver’s license," Rep. Buck said. "Ramirez Valiente should have been deported after a DUI conviction, but because of Colorado’s sanctuary laws, officials provided him sanctuary and shielded him from deportation. Sean’s tragedy was completely preventable. Congress cannot stand by and let another family go through a tragic loss like the Buchanans did. That’s why I am proud to introduce legislation with Sen. Marsha Blackburn to stop these dangerous green-light sanctuary laws from wreaking havoc on communities across the country.”
The Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act halts certain Department of Justice grant funding to states that defy federal immigration law. Non-complying states will no longer enjoy access to millions of dollars in funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The JAG program provides support on a yearly basis to states for local law enforcement and criminal justice initiatives. In FY 2019, states that issued driver licenses to illegal immigrants received nearly $53 million from this program. This law will require states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens or states that fail to share immigration enforcement information with the DHS to return unallocated funds to the JAG program within 30 days. Further, these states will be ineligible to receive future JAG funds until they comply with the driver license and federal information sharing provisions.
The REAL ID Act was passed in the wake of 9/11, after the terrorist hijackers easily obtained state driver licenses allowing them to board planes to launch their deadly attacks. Now, less than 20 years later, over a dozen states are already working to reverse efforts to ensure identification security. Some state laws, like California’s law and New York’s Green Light Law, go further than providing driver licenses to illegal aliens. Many of these sanctuary states also forbid local authorities from transferring information about potentially dangerous criminal aliens to DHS.
The bill text is available here.