Will Senate Gut REAL ID Act?

The Obama administration is looking to gut government programs that “assure people are who they say they are” in an effort to pave the way for amnesty. Or it is sure looking that way. The most recent public display of “Let’s look secure to our critics but wink and nod to our supporters” is the introduction in the Senate last week of the new PASS ID Act, which outright repeals the important driver’s license provisions of the 2005 REAL ID Act. While many bills are introduced every session of Congress, the PASS ID Act is important for two reasons: (1) because DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, the National Governors Association and the ACLU are all behind it and (2) because it claims adherence to 9/11 Commission recommendations. In fact, it fails miserably to abide by either the letter or spirit of those recommendations.  

The administration is smart enough to know it needs the cover of Congress to pull the plug on the REAL ID secure driver’s license law and replace it with the PASS ID Act. REAL ID is already proving its value in the field and the administration knows this because its Department of Homeland Security (DHS) talks to the states implementing REAL ID every day. States implementing REAL ID will tell you (if they are off the record) that it is making their Motor Vehicle Departments more efficient, with better vetting and less fraud, and, for some, a significant increase in catching wanted criminals at the DMV counters.  

Two years ago, only half the states were checking legal status. Now, thanks to the requirement that a REAL ID be issued only to those legally in the United States, all but three are. Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo testified in December before the state’s General Assembly that his agency needed to shore up its defenses against driver’s license fraud that was coming from the increased out-of-state demand from illegal immigrants who are seeking Maryland driver’s licenses. Calling his state a “pass-through” for illegal immigrants attempting to obtain these driver’s licenses and IDs to better embed in the United States, he said his agency received over 300,000 out-of-state (and out-of-country) requests for application appointments last year. Mr. Kuo linked Maryland’s failure to check legal status with the fact that the state was being overrun by fraud, illegal immigration, crime and depleted education and health resources. In April, Maryland, under strong guidance from Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, passed almost as emergency measures REAL ID compliance legislation.  

That is a switch that is hard to overlook. Other states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Wyoming are already claiming compliance with the first set of deadlines of January 2010, and another eight believe they will be in compliance by fall. More generally, 16 states are public in their support of REAL ID, and another 12 or so states are actively working towards REAL ID compliance.  

Meanwhile, a few senators — working closely with Secretary Napolitano’s staff — have introduced a bill that is deaf, dumb and blind to these facts. Despite broad statements to the contrary, the PASS ID Act enables any decent identity thief — and most certainly the profitable counterfeiters — to get a federally compliant driver’s license. Moreover, PASS ID repeals the essence of 9/11 Commission recommendations by deleting REAL ID requirements that states check digitized birth records when vetting driver’s license applicants (13 states have already placed birth records online), overall identity verification, and passport checks. PASS ID also provides states with money with no accountability. No wonder the NGA likes this bill so much.

PASS ID is a waste of the money already well spent towards REAL ID compliance. It is also a waste of time for states that have been working towards compliance in good faith. Another law on driver’s licenses will also cost taxpayers more in states who now must come into compliance with a new law with no guarantee of what new regulations will require. And consumers will not have the protections against identity theft that come with REAL ID’s identity vetting.  

And a sweetener for terrorists: Any ID can make it through any commercial airport under this proposal. We are back to pre-9/11 standards at airports. I’m sure that makes everyone feel safer.   


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