The latest update on states’ efforts to comply with the REAL ID law points out the haphazard and inadequate fashion in which the federal government has dealt with the legislation over the past 12 years.
The Department of Homeland Security has extended Washington’s waiver for complying with the law until July 10 — for now.
State officials have requested a waiver until 2020, and another update on the ruling is expected from the federal government in the near future.
Sound confusing? It is. And it highlights failed enforcement dating back to the George W. Bush administration. So we'll make it simple: If the REAL ID Act is necessary for national security, it should be enforced; if it is not essential, it should be repealed.
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Having addressed the crux of the matter, allow us to examine some of the intricacies.
The REAL ID Act of 2005 was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks following the recommendation of an independent panel that investigated those attacks. The measure requires proof of citizenship or legal residence in order for somebody to acquire an ID that allows them to board a commercial airliner or enter a federal building or military base. The idea was to prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing those security-sensitive areas.
The problem with the law is that states have varying regulations for issuing identification. In Washington, proof of citizenship or legal residence is not required for procuring a driver’s license, but the state long has issued an enhanced license that does require such proof.
Some critics have suggested that undocumented immigrants should not qualify for driver’s licenses, but this view is shortsighted. Preventing a non-citizen from attaining a license will not keep them off the road; it will just lead to more unqualified, unlicensed and uninsured people being behind the wheel.
Washington’s basic driver’s license does not meet the more stringent threshold of a federal ID, meaning that citizens can be prevented from getting on a plane or visiting a military base. Because of that, the state has sought and received numerous extensions on the deadline for compliance.
Washington and several other states this year have taken legislative steps toward compliance. Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to create a two-tiered licensing system, with the basic driver’s license falling short of federal standards and a higher-level license being available that requires proof of citizenship.
While some critics suggested that the bill would prevent legal residents — such as those possessing a Green Card — from boarding a plane, such a resident would have a passport or other ID that allows them access.
As of Jan. 22, enhanced ID will be required, meaning that Washington and other states were facing a deadline this year. With that looming, the Legislature took a meaningful step toward that compliance, but it does little to mitigate the stifling bureaucracy involved.
About half of the states are in compliance with the REAL ID Act. The law was passed in 2005, but federal officials apparently feel that it is so ineffectual or unnecessary that they routinely have provided extensions for compliance over the past 12 years.
So, here is a suggestion: The federal government should either repeal the law or extend the deadline to 2019 while making clear that all states must be in compliance by that time.
It often is said that the United States is a nation of laws, but those laws are rendered meaningless when they are not enforced.