DHS Delays REAL ID Implementation Indefinitely
The Department of Homeland Security has kicked the can on bringing states into compliance with the REAL ID Act, delaying yet again the implementation of uniform security requirements for drivers’ licenses.
DHS said today that just 13 states -- Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- have met the standards of the 2005 law, and "temporary deferment" has been granted for all other states and territories.
The act established minimum national standards for driver's licenses and identification cards in order to be accepted by the federal government as documents to establish one's identity for activities such as boarding a plane or entering certain federal facilities.
DHS issued the guidelines for state compliance nearly five years ago -- on Jan. 11, 2008. From 2008 to 2011, DHS handed out $263 million in grants to help states get up to snuff.
In March 2011, the department announced that the deadline for full compliance with the REAL ID Act had been extended from May 10, 2011, to Jan. 15, 2013.
And yet, just 13 states are ready for 2013.
"The Department commends these states on the substantial progress in working toward these goals and the improvements in security for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards since 9/11," DHS said in its announcement.
"Other states have not provided sufficient information, at this time, for DHS to determine if they meet the Act’s requirements. These states will have an opportunity to respond with additional information before DHS makes a final determination. DHS will continue to receive and review state submissions on a rolling basis."
Seven states have laws on the books prohibiting compliance with REAL ID. Several other states have passed resolutions opposing the law.
Some lawmakers chided DHS for not providing enough guidance about what would happen with existing IDs from noncompliant states as the deadline loomed.
New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall (D) and Jeff Bingaman (D) wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano yesterday to request another extension for states that have yet to fall into line.
"The lack of guidance by the Department of Homeland Security is causing a great deal of anxiety for our constituents, who are seeing news reports that they may need a passport in order to fly on domestic flights after January 15. We have been expecting an announcement that your Department will extend the deadline or delay enforcement of the Act, but to date there has been no statement either way. Such delays mean that many people may alter or cancel their travel plans or bear the expense of obtaining a passport they do not need," the senators wrote.
"If the Department intends to extend the deadline, please make such an announcement immediately. If the Department does not intend to provide such an extension, please issue a public statement as soon as possible to reassure the traveling public that you will work to mitigate the adverse impact of REAL ID."
Today's statement from DHS grants a "temporary deferment that will allow Federal agencies to continue to accept their licenses and identification cards for boarding commercial aircraft and other official purposes," but its timeline is incredibly vague.
"DHS’s goal is to implement the REAL ID Act, as required by law, in a measured, fair, and responsible way. In the coming weeks and months, DHS will, in consultation with States and stakeholders, develop a schedule for the phased enforcement of the Act’s statutory prohibitions to ensure that residents of all states are treated in a fair manner," the department said. "DHS expects to publish a schedule by early fall 2013 and begin implementation at a suitable date thereafter."
Illegal immigration hawk Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said it's just another stall tactic -- and a broken promise by the administration that hasn't given states any incentive to come into compliance.
On March 21, David Heyman, DHS Assistant Secretary for the Office of Policy, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that DHS would not delay implementation of REAL ID any more.
"During an oversight hearing that this committee had last November, Secretary Napolitano refused to say whether or not the DHS would hold firm to the Jan. 15, 2013, deadline. Is DHS going to extend the deadline again?" Sensenbrenner asked at that hearing.
"We have no plans to extend the deadline," Heyman responded.
“Earlier this year, the administration testified before a Judiciary Subcommittee hearing that DHS would not delay the deadline for states to comply with REAL ID. I am disappointed and extremely concerned that the Obama administration will not be honoring that commitment," Sensenbrenner, who introduced the original REAL ID bill, said today.
"This is a dangerous reversal. The administration is not taking seriously the security risk of delaying REAL ID implementation further.”
REAL ID isn't quite a party line issue, with GOP opponents over the years including Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.).
"Secure driver's licenses and identification documents are a vital component of a holistic national security strategy. Law enforcement must be able to rely on government-issued identification documents and know that the bearer of such a document is who he or she claims to be," the DHS said in its statement, which didn't include direct comment from Napolitano.
The department says it's "twice modified" the REAL ID deadline to compensate for "a period of declining state revenues."
“Every step of the way, the administration has stonewalled implementation of this critical national security law. They have not given states necessary and timely guidance, encouraging states not to comply with delay after delay," Sensenbrenner said.
"This is the fourth time DHS delayed implementation of something the 9/11 Commission said was critical to preventing another terrorist attack. The 9/11 hijackers had at least 30 pieces of identification on them," he added. "We need the administration to implement the law and fulfill the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations."
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