Alex Massie

Department of Road Safety and Demagoguery

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If one were to compile a list of all the issues in which elite - and, er, libertarian - opinion is most completely out of touch with "ordinary" people's concerns, there's a more than decent chance immigration would be at the top of the list. As Garance reports from Iowa, it may also be the last issue with which Republicans can credibly thrash Democrats. People (like me) in Washington are relaxed about immigration - including illegal immigration - but that's not true in the mid-west, to say nothing of the south or parts of the south-west.

Which is why the question of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants is a topic that is not likely to go away any time soon. It doesn't take much imagination to consider how popular it will be with talk radio. At a basic level - as Chris Dodd pointed out - there's a question of what people perceive as "fairness" and "privilege".

Still, Eliot Spitzer's scheme to warrant illegal aliens seemed sensible to me (then again, it would wouldn't it?. If illegal immigrants drive unlicensed or are compelled/choose to seek alternative means of getting on the road then we may expect to see the problems highlighted in this Readers' Digest* piece become more and more widespread, making a bad situation much, much worse:

The Armstrong family never knew what hit them. Edward was behind the wheel of their car with his wife, Melissa, next to him and ten-year-old daughter and six-year-old son in the backseat. Traffic was choked to a near standstill on the stretch of Interstate 81 in Tennessee. But one driver apparently didn't notice the approaching snarl.

Nasko Nazov, an illegal immigrant from Macedonia, didn't hit the brakes in time and his tractor-trailer plowed into two idling vehicles, one of them the Armstrongs' car. No one in the family survived the horrible crash.

Adding to the senselessness of the tragedy, officials soon learned that Nazov had been driving his truck with a bogus commercial driver's license (CDL). The suburban Chicago resident had obtained false documents claiming he was a resident of Wisconsin (where he took his driver's test) and had gotten help from a translator on the answers to a written exam. In 2006, Nazov was sentenced to four years in prison.

In recent years, 32 states have reported cases of commercial license fraud, with busts ranging everywhere from Florida to Ohio to Colorado. A 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) identified about 15,000 "suspect" license holders in 27 states, over a third of whom ultimately had their CDLs taken away or voluntarily gave them up.

In Macon, Georgia, according to an investigative report by the Chicago Tribune, one truck-driving school paid private "third party" testers to falsify the exams of 623 students. When Georgia officials uncovered the racket and had all those students retake the test, only 142 qualified.

According to safety advocates, there are probably tens of thousands of truckers on the road with sham licenses.

...In Illinois, state officials sold hundreds of phony licenses to unskilled drivers, including immigrants who couldn't read or speak English and people who flattened orange pylons in driving tests.

The fraud came to light after a driver who knew little English failed to understand radio warnings from passing truckers that part of his tailpipe assembly was loose. The pieces flew off and were run over by a van, piercing the vehicle's gas tank. The van exploded into flames, killing six children of a Chicago minister. Investigators determined the trucker had bought a sham license from the state. So had another driver who killed ten people in a 2004 Texas highway crash.

*Sure, Readers' Digest wants to terrify you, but the point stands nonetheless.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyimmigration