Immigration Issues

REAL ID (2009)

The recommendation of the 9/11 Commission led to the adoption of the REAL ID Act in early 2005. It is a measure designed to encourage the states to change their lax driver's license standards. The REAL ID Act provisions established national standards for the issuance of driver's licenses that will effectively bar people who are in the country illegally from obtaining them, as well as barring people who have ties to terrorist organizations from taking advantage of our political asylum process and providing for completion of the border security fence along the Mexican border. However, there has been pushback from several states over this legislation.

Ten years after 9/11 and six years after adoption of REAL ID, states are beginning to conduct the simplest of identity checks. As of January 2011, all states are checking the Social Security Numbers of all driver's license and ID applicants for the first time and 48 states now require legal status in the U.S. Despite enacting these measures, Washington, Utah, and New Mexico have passed specific legislation against the implementation on REAL ID.1 If we are to have a consistent measure of ID security across the nation and reduce fraud as much as possible, it is imperative that all 50 states come into compliance with REAL ID.

Safety and Security

Proponents of issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens have argued that it would improve national security and road safety. The security argument is spurious, because illegal aliens often use aliases and phony documents, so the alien's identity and residence is not established as a result of the driver's license process. A process that does not verify the authenticity of the applicant's documents can be used as easily by terrorists as by illegal aliens.

The argument on road safety relies on a faulty assumption that if illegal aliens are legally licensed to drive, they will all have accident insurance. But even if a state requires automobile insurance as a condition of getting a license, that does not keep an illegal alien from canceling the policy the next day. Illegal aliens generally are working in low-wage jobs and have difficulty affording insurance, and their cars are frequently older and more accident-prone. Additionally, illegal aliens often are not able to read road alerts in English. In many of the countries from which illegal aliens come, it is not uncommon for motorists involved in accidents to flee the scene. The combination of these factors makes it probable that if more illegal aliens were encouraged to drive by issuing them driver's licenses, it would lead to more accidents caused by uninsured motorists and many would be hit and run.

PASS ID and Pushback

On June 15, 2009, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation (S. 1261 of the 111th Congress) entitled "Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification Act of 2009" (PASS ID). PASS ID will gut the security provisions of REAL ID and re-establish many of the loopholes that allowed the 9/11 hijackers to carry out the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. This document explains some of the key differences between REAL ID and PASS ID. Click here to see the full document.


End Note:

  1. "REAL ID Implementation: Less Expensive, Doable, and Helpful in Reducing Fraud," Center for Immigration Studies, January 2011.

Updated November 2011