Real ID: A Study in Contrast
Think back to September 11, 2001. In that horrific environment and - more importantly - in the aftermath, a frantic flurry of activity framed the government's response.
The most significant and specific actions designed to prevent another mass terrorist incident resulted from a presidential panel designated the 9/11 Commission. It is one of those recommendations we'll focus on, and it is a policy decision that will either address a fundamental and serious issue or risk the surrender of our freedoms and privacy, all depending on your particular point-of-view.
The commission recommended a national rulemaking process for a form of identification, not necessarily a national ID, but at least the framework within which the states would enact their own forms.
>From that recommendation sprung the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which developed the idea of "negotiated rulemaking," an ongoing conversation involving federal security professionals, state and local governments, and organizations concerned with matters of privacy.
That work hadn't even gotten a solid start when the U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, circumvented its own previous will with an amendment to an emergency spending bill on May 11, 2005. These emergency spending bills are a critically important legislative action, and when congressional leadership allows a last minute amendment, these things normally sail through the process, regardless of merit.
That was the case with this particular amendment, The Real ID Act of 2005, which immediately terminated the negotiated rulemaking provision of the earlier bill. The Real ID Act included prescriptive standards for identification cards, and set deadlines for their enactment and issuance.
The act requires the states to have a program in place to issue Real ID Act compliant identification cards starting in May 11, 2008. Once the program begins, the states will be required to issue only these qualified ID cards by May 11, 2013, with no exceptions.
So, what does this mean to us? Well, for starters, if you do not possess a Real ID compliant form of identification starting in May of 2008, you will need a passport to: pick up airline tickets, to board a cruise ship, to enter a federal facility, and to enter other secure facilities and organizations.
If the issuance of a passport were a simple undertaking, this might not be a big deal, although it is arguably a huge inconvenience. Unfortunately, getting a passport is a major problem, with long delays and backups in that system, not to mention a cost component.
So, why bother at all? Seven states have already opted out, essentially forcing their residents to obtain an additional form of ID acceptable for the actions specified above.
So, what's the reason for their opt-out decision? The federal government isn't providing the funding necessary to make the program work, and at this point, the feds haven't even promulgated the regulations governing the program itself.
The American Civil Liberties Union is adamantly opposed to the law, and is spending time, effort, and money to undermine the law, either through additional congressional action now that the Democrats hold the majority (Real ID passed under the GOP-controlled Congress), or through encouraging states to pass resolutions to opt-out of compliance.
So, if there's not enough money to make it work, and the regulations haven't been promulgated, what is the benefit from this act? Why should Maryland implement the program at all?
The simple reason is the Real ID Act offers us the best chance to make a specific and measurable step towards solving our illegal immigration problem. Right now, employers hire workers who present Social Security cards and even photo ID's to prove their legal status and right-to-work in this country. Previous columns documented the fact that there is an underground cottage industry in creating and marketing counterfeit forms of identification to illegal immigrants.
If employment is the magnet that attracts illegal immigrants, and we agree that targeting employers who provide the magnetic force is one way to ferret out illegals, then how do we hold them to account when they are trying to do the right thing and inadvertently or unintentionally use forged/counterfeit documents to ascertain legal status?
A federally acceptable form of identification, with bio-metric security features in a tamper-proof enclosure, would be a real, meaningful step towards a high degree of confidence in hiring workers. Also, the process of issuance would mean that we know who is here, where they are, and how to find them in the event that becomes necessary.
An employer could be held to account for hiring any employee who doesn't possess that ID card. Take away the job through an examination of a tamper-proof form of ID, and you remove the primary motivator for someone to enter the country illegally.
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is currently working on developing two forms of ID for the May 2008 start date. One would be a Real ID compliant form; the other would essentially be the standard driver's license. The Real ID would cost about $15 more than the standard issue license, mostly because of the security features.
Some people, concerned about spending more, could opt to purchase the regular license. Those who anticipate travel, or plan to seek a security clearance, would be better buying the Real ID compliant card.
The idea of expanding this new form of identification into the employment sector in Maryland will be a much more involved, and will incur the wrath of the ACLU and immigration advocacy groups like CASA of Maryland. They understand that this will potentially reduce the illegal invasion, and might even be an effective way to identify illegal immigrants already in this country. Remember who we're talking about here. These groups led the charge to extend tuition assistance to illegal immigrants.
They'll invoke fascism, racism, and xenophobia as a way to prevent a solution such as this. Citizens will have to decide between taking a fairly dramatic step to address this serious and growing problem, or just accepting the inevitable budget growth and decline in service that must accompany a further-weakened border policy.