Real ID Act fights terrorism and civil liberties.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Call it a delayed spasm to terrorism that seeks to infect civil liberties. Or call it a day in the life of the information age, and the bolstering of national security. However it’s termed in the weeks ahead, a bill on its way to the White House is certain to pique interest that it never would have before Sept. 11.
The bill’s formal name is HR 418, and it will, in essence, turn state-issued driver’s licenses into a national identity card. Its catchier nickname is the Real ID Act of 2005.
Recently approved by both the US House and Senate, the Real ID Act will require license applicants to show a photo ID, a birth certificate, proof of their Social Security number and a document showing their full name and address. These documents will then be checked against federal databases. All of the information, including a digital photograph, will then be available for interstate and Department of Homeland Security use.
Real ID’s master plan is to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. But it goes much further.
The Real ID Act began as a tiny trailer nailed onto far less controversial bills that were shoe-ins for passage by Congress. That was the plan all along according to Real ID’s author, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) who, according to his Web site, said House leaders assured him earlier this year that Real ID was “a top priority and would be attached to the first piece of must-pass legislation.”
That must-pass legislation was an $82 billion supplemental spending package to aid war efforts in Iraq and Afganistan.
Because of its sneaky position—attached to high-priority war-spending bills—Real ID passed with nary a single Congressional hearing.
The new federal guidelines for driver’s licenses take effect in May 2008.
Sensenbrenner says the national ID system is necessary to “protect our citizens from another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel.” He also says the bill “affirms our nation’s unbending resolve to win the war on terror” and is necessary to prevent terrorists from boarding airplanes and entering government buildings.
While 18 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers used driver’s licenses to board planes, each was also in possession of a passport and other identification.
“It’s a disgrace,” says Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel). “This bill simply relied on antiterrorism rhetoric as a pretext to enact anti-immigrant measures.” Farr, who voted against the package deal before the US House approved it last week, says provisions of Real ID “threaten national security by pushing immigrants further into the shadows [of anonymity].”
Monterey immigration lawyer Don Hubbard agrees.
“Immigrants will be faceless and nameless,” he says. “It’s not about immigration. It’s about feeding private information into a database monitored by Homeland Security and God knows who else. It’s a total erosion on citizens’ rights to privacy.”
How databases will be protected from the fast-growing underground world of identity theft remains to be seen. Neither has it been decided how states will pay to implement the Real ID Act.
Hubbard explains that California law already prohibits driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and the black market for false identification is huge. But, he says, “People aren’t buying fake driver’s licenses in order to drive. They’re using them to get work.”
A spokesman for state Senator Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who drafted versions of driver’s license bills for California, says Cedillo will likely draft yet another plan—quickly—to get licenses for Californians who aren’t here on a government nod.
“Our previous bills would have been approved if the licenses had a mark on them signifying they belonged to undocumented immigrants,” he says. “We’re not sure that’s the answer.”
Hubbard cringes at the idea of a Scarlet Letter for immigrants but hopes Cedillo moves quickly with a proposal.
“My proof is in my files,” he says. “These immigrants are from all over the world. They’re scientists and research people, professionals and hard workers, not terrorists. They own homes and businesses. But it’s increasingly difficult for them because of the politicizing of immigration.”