Citing national security, Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte introduced legislation Wednesday that would deny North Carolina all its $890 million in federal highway money unless it stops issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
Her bill targets six states that still accept taxpayer ID numbers from the Internal Revenue Service as proof of identity or residence by those seeking licenses. The others are West Virginia, Illinois, New Mexico, Kentucky and Utah, her office said.
Myrick, a Republican who is looking at a run for governor in 2008, focused on her home state -- particularly Democrats who run state government in Raleigh.
"Basically, we're here to call on the governor (Mike Easley) and the legislature in North Carolina to stop issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens," said Myrick, who was joined at a news conference by GOP Reps. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville and Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk.
In fact, the state is already heading in the direction Myrick wants.
"The governor already handled this," said Easley spokeswoman Sherri Johnson. At his direction, she said, the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles worked with the General Assembly on a measure to stop allowing taxpayer IDs to obtain a license.
The state Senate approved it, and it's given a good chance of passing in the House when the legislature returns in May.
Given that forecast, Myrick's action Wednesday drew a rebuke from the office of N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
"For her to threaten our transportation dollars is short-sighted considering that we are already working on this issue," said spokesman Tony Caravano.
The federal share represents about a quarter of North Carolina's $3.6 billion transportation budget.
But Myrick's office said it would push the Washington bill until the state law is signed.
"Right now, (the law) hasn't changed," said Myrick spokesman Andy Polk. "If they don't handle it, we'll have to take care of it up here."
Myrick said her bill probably won't get considered until next year.
DMV commissioner George Tatum said 25,957 N.C. applicants signed affidavits last year seeking to use the taxpayer ID. That was down from 41,977 in 2003, and reflects tougher restrictions the state imposed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Myrick's immigration legislation, her third such bill this year, targets an issue that has angered her base of conservative supporters. She has taken a tougher stand on illegal immigration since the death of Mount Holly teacher Scott Gardner, who was killed in July when his car was struck, police said, by an intoxicated illegal immigrant who had five driving while impaired charges.
North Carolina is home to an estimated 300,000 people in the country illegally. For them, a driver's license is more than just legal authorization to drive. It's a government-approved ID, complete with a picture. Flashing this prized possession can make it easier to keep a job, cash a check or find a place to live.
The state's tightening of driver's license rules after 9-11 was not enough, Myrick and others say.
"Our feeling is that a driver's license is a privilege for citizens and legal aliens and it shouldn't be something given to somebody who broke the law," Myrick said.
Illegal immigrants will keep driving and won't leave the state just because they can't get a license, said Elisa Rodriguez, chair of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce in Charlotte.
They will not be able to buy car insurance without a driver's license, so more uninsured drivers will be on the road, she said.
In July, state auditor Les Merritt said North Carolina has become a magnet for illegal immigrants because it is easier to get a driver's license here than in neighboring states.
South Carolina does not accept a tax ID and requires proof that applicants are here legally.
Myrick's bill would take a different route than the Real ID Act, a federal law passed this year that requires states to verify people are in the U.S. legally before issuing a driver's license. If a state does not comply with that act by 2008, its residents would not be able to board a plane or receive a passport.
Myrick said her concern was national security, not Hispanics in low-paying jobs.
"Our main concern is: Who's in our state?"
WHAT'S NEW: Rep. Sue Myrick filed a bill pushing to ban illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses.
WHY IT MATTERS: Myrick says it would help national security; opponents say it won't keep illegal immigrants from coming to the state.
WHAT'S NEXT: Congress could take the bill up next year.