Reality sets in for states on Real ID
Like it or not — and many in the Obama administration don’t — Real ID is coming to a driver’s license near you.
But critics fear Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano plans to gut the intent of the legislation’s authors.
There is broad agreement among those following the issue on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country that Pass ID, the legislative alternative to Real ID that the Obama administration was pushing last year, is dead in the water.
“Although [Homeland Security] is still working with Congress on a comprehensive solution that allows cost savings and flexibility to the states, we are obligated to continue moving ahead with efforts to improve the standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification under the REAL ID framework pending any legislative changes by Congress,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told The Times in an e-mail.
The Real ID Act grew out of a recommendation from the Sept. 11 commission that driver’s licenses needed to be more secure and harder to obtain for terrorists and other malefactors. Despite being in the country illegally, all but one of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 had driver’s licenses or other state-issued ID cards that they used to rent cars and apartments, and ultimately to board the planes they commandeered.
Several terrorist plots foiled in the United States since then have been attempted by people who also had managed to get driver’s licenses, despite having overstayed their visas.
“People understand that 99 percent of the security at airports, buildings, stadiums and other events relies on visual verification of driver’s licenses,” said Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, a nonprofit that advocates for fraud-proof licenses. “That’s why there has always been broad public support for stronger identity security.”
To comply with the Real ID Act, states must check that license applicants are in the country legally, ensure they have valid Social Security numbers and verify the authenticity of documents such as birth certificates, among other requirements. Applicants in the United States on visas can be issued licenses, but those licenses will expire with the visas.
Because driver’s licenses are issued by states, federal law cannot mandate standards for them, so the Real ID Act says licenses that do not comply with its standards will not be usable for “federal purposes” — like boarding a plane or entering a federal building.
Compliant licenses are marked with a gold star.
But Real ID has proved controversial, and more than a dozen states have enacted laws opposing or blocking its implementation.
Ten states have certified that they are complying with the law, and another 17 are on target to comply by the end of the year, according to state and federal officials. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have not certified their compliance.
The original deadline for compliance was May 2008, but the homeland security secretary was empowered to grant extensions for states, and both Bush administration Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his successor in the Obama administration, Ms. Napolitano, have done so. May 2011 now is the deadline for states to comply.
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