The Obama administration on Thursday once again delayed the deadline for states to comply with stricter standards for driver's licenses, which were put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. and were designed to keep illegal immigrants from being able to get valid identification.
The move marks a reverse from what the administration told Congress earlier this year, when it said it didn't plan any more delays.
States were supposed to comply by Jan. 15 or else their licenses would not be acceptable for federal purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building. But the Homeland Security Department said only 13 states are ready, and the department said it will issue a blanket waiver to all of the other states.
The law was passed in 2005, but the department has repeatedly delayed the deadline as states balked, saying it cost too much or saying they didn't want to abide by its requirements. Opposition came from both Republicans and Democrats in those states.
And now some states are going the other way altogether and considering offering driver's licenses to illegal immigrants who earn tentative legal status under President Obama's new non-deportation policy. Illinois is moving to grant driver's licenses to all illegal immigrants who apply.
In a statement the department said it will still try to implement the 2005 law, known as Real ID, "in a measured, fair and responsible way" and said it will try to create a schedule for future deadlines.
But critics said the administration has been dragging its feet.
"Every step of the way, the administration has stonewalled implementation," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who wrote Real ID.
He said the administration has never given states the guidance they need to know what they need to do to comply with the law. Other critics say the administration has reduced staff in the compliance office so that it couldn't function even if the administration wanted it to.
Mr. Sensenbrenner said Homeland Security officials promised him earlier this year they wouldn't delay again. They had already issued three previous delays.
Stricter driver's license standards was one of the recommendations that came out of the Sept. 11 commission that looked at the terrorist attacks on New York and Virginia.
The terrorists had acquired more than 30 driver's licenses, many of them issued even though the individuals had overstayed visas and were in the country illegally. They used those licenses to board the airplanes they drove into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.
Real ID requires that states check to make sure people are in the country legally if they are to get driver's licenses.
"Delaying Real ID unnecessarily places Americans' lives at risk and threatens national security," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. "If there is a terrorist attack and the terrorist acquired a fraudulent driver's license as ID, the Obama administration will have to take full responsibility."
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