REAL I.D. ACT

By Keil Hackley

June 2005 – In May of this year, President Bush signed into law an emergency spending bill on Iraq and tsunami aid with the REAL I.D. Act of 2005 attached to it. The REAL I.D. part calls for stricter documentation when applying for driver’s licenses or in other words allows for a federally mandated standardization of state issued driver’s licenses. This particular form of identification will have to meet federal I.D. standards established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and expected to be in nationwide effect by May of 2008. The purpose of REAL I.D. is to stop illegal immigrants, criminals, and terrorists from acquiring driver’s licenses. The idea for federally approved I.D. cards originated with a September 11th Commission recommendation as a device to hinder terrorists from obtaining access to legitimate identities, after information about the September 11th terrorists holding valid driver’s licenses when boarding the fated planes surfaced.

These electronically readable I.D. cards will store personal information such as name, birth date, gender, I.D. number, digital photograph, and a person’s address. DHS can use its discretionary authority to add additional requirements such as fingerprint and retinal scans. The I.D. card will further have built-in security features to prevent from tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication for fraudulent purposes. The new system will ask motor vehicle administrators to verify the validity of at least four acceptable identification documents before issuing a new driver’s license. Applicants must present an authentic copy of their birth certificate, a photo I.D., utility bills or other to establish name and address as well as proof of a social security number. Thirty-six U.S. states already verify social security numbers online with the Social Security Administration and 20 states already require four forms of identification for driver’s license applications or renewals.

For many Americans, a driver’s license is a valuable identification document. In implementing the REAL I.D. Act people whose driver’s license fails to comply with federal standards set by DHS will not be allowed to use their I.D. card to board air planes or travel by Amtrak, open a bank account, fill out tax forms, enter federal buildings, or collect social security payments. For people such as illegal immigrants, the states will issue a different driver’s license sporting a stamp or color code to indicate that it cannot be used for identification purposes.

The Act did not pass without activist groups such as the ACLU, governors, legislators, and officials voicing concerns over the act’s provisions, substantial costs, and immigration issues. For example, by September 11th 2005, U.S. states must sign a memorandum of understanding with DHS to use an automated system for the verification of legal presence of a nonimmigrant applicant. People with nonimmigrant visas, pending or approved applications for temporary protected status, pending application for asylum, approved deferred status, pending application for an adjustment of status will receive a temporary license valid for the duration of the applicant’s authorized stay in the U.S. or valid for one year in the absence of a finite expiration date.

M. Keil Hackley is a partner at the Weston law firm Hackley & Robertson, P.A. and can be reached at kh@hackleyserrone.com or at 954-349-4994.