- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

Yesterday, the House passed the $82 billion bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and help tsunami relief efforts in Southeast Asia. This is good, but uncontroversial as far it goes. The bill took on added significance when the House leadership attached Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s Real ID Act as an amendment — a decision which made passage anything but simple. Instead of remaining a matter of funding the troops, the bill became a test of how serious Congress is in doing what needs to be done to protect the homeland. It looks as if it’s going to pass the first test.

Some lawmakers almost derailed Real ID’s passage when they used its inclusion in the supplemental bill as a reason to promote their own pro-amnesty measures, such as Sen. Larry Craig’s AgJobs bill. Thankfully, AgJobs was voted down, but only because the Senate failed to get the needed 60 votes. With the Senate expected to pass the supplemental bill next week — again with Real ID attached as an amendment — this should be seen as the first victory in the looming battle over immigration reform.

Critics from the left pounced on Real ID for denying illegal aliens federally accepted driver’s licenses and its supposedly racist asylum provisions. On the right, critics like the Wall Street Journal editorial board blast Real ID as either unrealistic or unnecessary. Some libertarian-minded conservatives bemoan the driver’s-license provisions as akin to a national ID card.

The reality is that Americans use driver’s licenses as their regular form of identification. Unfortunately, they are much too easy to obtain. The September 11 commission highlighted this weakness in its report, while stressing that several of the hijackers had in fact obtained numerous driver’s licenses from several states, which allowed them to travel on the nation’s airlines. States will now have to abide by federal regulations when issuing driver’s licenses, if such licenses are to be used for federal identification purposes — for instance, air travel.

Conservative opposition to Real ID’s asylum provisions were raised in committee, particularly from those concerned that they might impede true asylum seekers from entering the United States. For the most part, those concerns were addressed by eliminating some caps, but the bulk of the asylum provisions went forward.

As for the Journal’s “unnecessary” argument, we agree with the editors of National Review, who wrote: “Improve the current dysfunctional, but decentralized ID system, or watch Washington take over the whole thing after the next terrorist attack.” For a case in point, see the mess that is the Transportation Security Administration.

If all goes according to plan, Real ID will soon become law sometime next week. President Bush has said he’ll sign the funding bill with Real ID attached. Mr. Sensenbrenner, who never ceased in his struggle to better secure the homeland, deserves the praise of a grateful nation.

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