Imagine for a moment, a day about a year from now.
Two men, dressed similarly in khaki pants, button-down shirts and sensible shoes walk simultaneously into different ends of a shopping mall in Towson, Maryland, a suburban community just outside of Baltimore and only 45 miles from Washington, D.C. It is 2 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, just three weeks before Christmas, and the mall is packed with frazzled holiday shoppers. Many are children, waiting impatiently for a photo on Santa's knee.
At 2:03 pm, shoppers leaving the Macy's store at the south end of the mall are blown to the floor by a massive explosion. As security and two local police officers stationed at the mall rush to the scene and call for help, a second explosion rips through mall's food court.
When the smoke clears, 419 Americans are dead, most of them children. An additional 865 are injured. Many were caught under the debris when part of the mall's roof collapsed.
As a result of the dual Towson bombers, Americans spend the weeks before Christmas at home, concerned about the security of their local shopping centers. The American economy is devastated as a holiday shopping season that bore so much promise is transformed into an economic disaster. Recession looms as major retailers, one after another, declare bankruptcy.
And it should have been prevented:
Two days before the bombings, a Maryland state trooper stopped one of the bombers on I-695 near Towson for driving with a broken tail light. Investigators would later determine that the second bomber was in the passenger seat.
The trooper, following an oft-practiced procedure, reviewed the suspect's driver's license. Issued by the State of Maryland, it was valid, listed the driver's home address in Towson, and showed that he had a clean driving record. The trooper, following his usual practice, gave the driver a warning, instructed him sternly to have his tail light repaired and sent him on his way.
The trooper, of course, had no way of knowing that the two men in the recently-purchased, though slightly used, Ford sedan were terrorists. But more importantly, thanks to Congressional foot-dragging, he had no way of knowing that both men were in the country illegally, the driver having overstayed his student visa while the passenger had slipped under a fence in the Arizona desert.
As of today, eleven states, including Maryland, issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens. Only a handful require that licenses for resident aliens expire at the same time as their visas.
Yet had a simple ban on issuing driver's licenses to illegals or a requirement that the expiration date of the driver's visa be printed on his driver's license been in place, the trooper in this nightmare scenario would have been obliged to take stern measures against the soon-to-be bomber for driving on an expired license. He could have learned that both men were in the country illegally. And law enforcement would have taken a more careful look at the suspects. In all likelihood, they would have been caught and their plans foiled.
The failure to include the two measures ― federal standards barring the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens and requiring that licenses expire when legal residents' visas expire ― in the recently passed intelligence reform bill is a potentially tragic missed opportunity. And it's the real reason behind Congressman James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) efforts to delay the bill until those provisions could be included.
Despite the best efforts of opponents to paint the proposals as anti-immigrant, they are not. They are, very simply, commonsense measures to improve our nation's security and protect our citizens. (And why would anyone think it's a good idea to give an official sanction ― via a driver's license ― to someone who's in the country illegally?)
Bowing to intense pressure, Congressman Sensenbrenner withdrew his objections and allowed the intelligence reform bill to pass, but not before he extracted an assurance that these two measures would be brought up for consideration early in 2005. Here's hoping that common sense prevails and Sensenbrenner's proposal passes easily.
Our security and our safety demand nothing less.December 9, 2004
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