Just prior to my election to Congress, a piece of legislation was passed which was intended to stem the tide of illegal aliens coming into our nation. While the goals were laudable, even the best of legislative intentions can produce results which are reprehensible.
Such is the case with an obscure section of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. This section authorizes the federal Department of Transportation to establish national requirements for birth certificates and drivers' licenses. The provision, a small part of a major piece of legislation passed at the end of the 104th Congress, represents an unprecedented power grab by the federal government and a threat to the liberties of every American, for it would essentially transform state drivers' licenses into national ID cards.
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Under the current state of the law, the citizens of states which have drivers' licenses that do not conform to the federal standards by October 1, 2000, will find themselves essentially stripped of their ability to participate in life as we know it. On that date, Americans will not be able to get a job, open a bank account, apply for Social Security or Medicare, exercise their Second Amendment rights, or even take an airplane flight, unless they can produce a state-issued ID that conforms to the federal specifications. Further, under the terms of the 1996 Kennedy-Kassebaum health-care law, Americans may be forced to present this federally-approved drivers' license before consulting a physician for medical treatment!
This situation is decidedly un-American, contrary to our heritage of individual liberty and states' rights. The federal government has no constitutional authority to require Americans to present any form of identification before engaging in any private transaction, such as opening a bank account, seeking employment, or especially seeing a doctor.
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The establishment of a "national" drivers' license and birth certificate makes a mockery of the 10th amendment and the principles of federalism. While no state is "forced" to accept the federal standards, is it unlikely they will refuse to comply when such action would mean none of their residents could get a job, receive Social Security, leave the state by plane, or have access to medical care. So rather than imposing a direct mandate on the states, the federal government is blackmailing them into complying with federal dictates.
It is for this reason that I am introducing the Freedom and Privacy Restoration Act, with Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia as a cosponsor. As the law stands now, the government is in a position to inappropriately monitor the movements and transactions of every citizen. History shows that when government gains the power to monitor the actions of the people, it eventually uses that power to impose totalitarian controls on the populace.
What would the founders of this country say if they knew the limited federal government they bequeathed to future generations would have grown to such a size that it claims power to demand all Americans obtain a federally-approved ID before getting a job? They would no doubt be disappointed.
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But if the disapproval of the founders is not sufficient to cause Congress to repeal the requirements, then perhaps the reaction of the American people when they discover that they must produce a federally-approved ID in order to open a bank account or see the doctor will turn the tide. Already congressional offices are being flooded with complaints about the movement toward a national ID card; imagine the public's surprise when they realize that not only is a national ID movement under way, but will be a reality by October 1, 2000.
Despite pleas for federal correction of societal wrongs, a national ID, followed surely by a national police force, is neither prudent nor constitutional. While it is easy to give in to the rhetoric of "protecting" children or some other defenseless group, we must be cautious that in a rush to provide protection in the short-term, we do not do permanent damage to our national heritage of liberty.
As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.
Where our security and liberty is concerned, we must remain constantly vigilant and uncompromisingly devoted.
Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas in the United States House. He can be contacted at his Washington office, 203 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515, or at his web site.