Thursday, December 21, 2006

Senators Propose Changes to REAL ID Act

Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Sununu (R-NH) introduced a bill, the Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2006 (S. 4117), to repeal Title II of the REAL ID Act of 2005 and reinstitute section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

"There is nothing realistic about REAL ID," said Senator Akaka. "My two primary concerns with REAL ID are that the law places an unrealistic and unfunded burden on state governments; and erodes Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights," he stated during his introductory remarks on the bill. Akaka hopes the Department of Homeland Security will create guidelines that will make the bill unnecessary.

Title II of REAL ID Act repeals the provisions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which required consultation between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and the states to establish federal standards for driver's licenses and instead mandated federal driver's license standards.

Under Title II, applicants for new or renewed driver's licenses must provide documentation of their U.S. citizenship or immigration status. Individuals with pending applications for asylum, temporary protected status or adjustment of status can only be issued temporary driver's licenses or identification cards.

States which decide to issue licenses to individuals found ineligible for a full or temporary license must mark the license with a design or color that indicates that the license cannot be used as federal identification. This system creates a discriminatory system, which clearly marks licenses and identification cards.

Title II also requires states to provide electronic access to all other states to the information contained in its motor vehicle license databases, which raises privacy concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the privacy provisions proposed by the legislation. Changes include the requirement that the Act not preempt state privacy laws, which may provide greater protections and the prohibition of the use of information contained on or in the licenses by private entities. The legislation also requires due process for individuals to challenge errors in data records contained within databases under the REAL ID Act.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and National Governors Association also expressed support for the bill. S. 4117 proposes allocating $30 million for the implementation of the REAL ID Act and extending the compliance deadline for states.

Although the privacy provisions come as a welcome change more government funding for the implementation of a misguided and discriminatory program will not fix our broken immigration system. "The 110th Congress must take affirmative actions to better protect the privacy and freedoms of all Americans. This bipartisan bill is a welcome first step, but more must be done to remedy the problems with the Real ID Act," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.