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That REAL ID Bill: Americans Pay For Washington's Cowardice
I have decided that Hell is not a pit of fire and brimstone. It's an international airport terminal in California.
Spend an hour or two listening to nonstop baggage claim instructions in Tagalog and Farsi and the concept of eternity is easily understood.
So last week at the airport I was one of seven people randomly selected for extra-special security screening.
Our group of suspected terrorists comprised: a fifty-something Chanel-clad black woman; two white and two Asian businessmen; and a blonde, thirty-something girl from Alabama.
Bringing the newbie up to speed, Lady Chanel greeted me with "I have already missed my flight."
I said "Well, if you middle-aged black women with great handbags would stop hijacking planes…"
Altogether, three of us would miss our flights.
And even I remember when you could buy a plane ticket from a private party and fly under their name.
As Southern Belle said:
Which brings me to the REAL ID bill.
(Sidenote One: with the support of the Bush White House. Hmm.)
Most immigration reform and conservative groups support REAL ID because it's at least an attempt to ameliorate some of the problems created by illegal mass immigration. (NumbersUSA is in favor; Carrying Capacity Network is against.)
(Hmm again. Now I'm a little suspicious about how much reform we're going to see.)
Maybe it's my misspent twenties in politics, but I couldn't resist downloading the bill and, well, reading it. [Full text, PDF]
And, yes, it would close the three-mile hole in the border near San Diego. Plus it would provide much-needed reform of asylum procedures.
These are good things.
But, according to Judiciary Committee summary, the REAL ID Act will also:
Establish strong security standards for the issuance of drivers' licenses.
- proof of lawful presence in the U.S.
- all states must comply, to eliminate weak links in domestic identity security
- tough physical security requirements to reduce counterfeiting
- drivers' license expires when an alien's visa expires
(Proof of lawful presence? I thought that was already a requirement. Maybe the REAL stands for we really mean it this time.)
Non U.S. citizens have to provide Evidence of Lawful Status. That includes an applicant who—
- Has an approved application for asylum in the United States or has entered into the United States in refugee status
- Has a valid, unexpired nonimmigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa status for entry into the United States
- Has a pending application for asylum in the United States
- Has a pending or approved application for temporary protected status in the United States
- Has approved deferred action status
- Has a pending application for adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States or conditional permanent resident status in the United States
The bill contains no language suggesting that all states must issue a license if an applicant meets the minimum standards.
This is a good thing, too.
But…I have questions.
My Question One: Pending applications are acceptable?
So, basically, an alien can enter the U.S. illegally, live under the radar for a spell and then one day apply for an adjustment of status. And with that pending application, he qualifies for a driver's license?
My Question Two: What about President Bush's proposed amnesty program?
If REAL ID is enacted, millions of illegal aliens would automatically qualify for a driver's license.
That seems to be a step in the wrong direction.
Maybe that's why the Bush White House supports it.
My Question Three: doesn't this create a national identity card?
Congressman Sensenbrenner insists that the new program is strictly voluntary.
But that isn't what the fine print says.
SEC.202. (a) (1)
Beginning 3 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, a Federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver's license or identification card issued by a State to any person unless the State is meeting the requirements of this section.
SEC.203 (a) is the Driver License Agreement. It requires electronic access to motor vehicle databases of all 50 states and creates what is more or less a national database.
Basically, if you want to board a plane, the Federal Aviation Agency only accepts the new card.
If you don't have it, you can't fly.
This may not rise to the level of coercion. But it's awful pushy.
My Question Four: Doesn't this grant the Secretary of Homeland Security a lot of unrestricted power?
Here's what the bill says:
SEC.206. (a) Authority
All authority to issue regulations, set standards, and issue grants under this title shall be carried out by the Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation and the States.
I read this to mean that the Secretary would unilaterally set any standard or regulation he deemed necessary.
This is a lot of power to be wielded by one man.
My Question Five: why do we need these new laws anyway?
Congressman Sensenbrenner has said:
"The goal of the Real ID Act is straightforward: it seeks to prevent another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel."
Identifying the loophole which led to the 9/11 attacks, he said
"Mohammed Atta received a 6-month visa to stay in the U.S. yet received a Florida driver's license good for 6 years!" [Bill Prompts New National ID Card Fears, Jeff Johnson, CNS news, February 09, 2005]
But Atta came in on a "valid, unexpired nonimmigrant visa." (See the Judiciary Committee summary, above.) Under the proposed REAL ID Act, Atta could still have gotten a driver's license good for six months.
What are we doing here? Are we trying to get the terrorists who reside legally in the United States to speed things up?
This is like saying "Look, take your best shot—but I haven't got all day."
Because our government lacks the moral courage to (a) racially profile to find terrorists and illegals, and (b) DEPORT ILLEGALS NOW, law-abiding Americans must suffer.
Post 9/11 America has become so desperate to avoid another attack that we permit our government with the power to strip our individual liberties.
My suggestion: at the very least, the Senate should revise the residency status requirements to exclude anyone not legally here—as opposed to anyone with a pending application.
Immigration enthusiasts say: But the backlogs are so long!
My compassionate womanly response: That's the illegals' problem.
Maybe they should go home.
And, if denying a driver's license to a foreign national who matches the ethnic profile of every one of the 9/11 hijackers seems unfair, I say we keep the license and tell them to be grateful that we let them in at all.
The Senate should also adjust the structure of the program to avoid a national database and provide the appropriate administrative checks and balances. (List available on request.)
Generally, we should seek reform which shifts the focus from penalizing Americans to targeting terrorists.
Right now, we are trying to win the game of cat and mouse by placing the mouse in a cage.
We live to see another sunrise…we will just peer at it through the bars.
(Is it going too far to call that a cheesy metaphor?)
Bryanna Bevens [email her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff for a member of the California State Assembly.