REAL ID Act: A Cautionary Tale about Why Promises of Future Enforcement Must Never Be Taken at Face Value
The REAL ID Act was approved by Congress and signed into law in 2005 by President George W. Bush. The legislation was supposed to address the glaring and dangerous flaws in the issuance of state driver’s licenses that were exposed by a blue ribbon panel investigating the events that led to the attacks of 9/11. Among the fatal (in the literal sense of the word) flaws identified by the 9/11 Commission was the ease with which the terrorists – most of whom were in the country illegally – were able to obtain valid state-issued licenses and ID documents that enabled them to escape scrutiny as they planned their attacks, and easily board the planes they turned into weapons of mass destruction.
Among the key provisions of REAL ID was a requirement that if state-issued documents were to be valid for federal identification purposes at airports and other sensitive locations, applicants would have to demonstrate that they were legally present in the United States. The original deadline for all states to be compliant was 2008. After repeated extensions, predicated on absurd claims that recalcitrant states couldn’t meet the REAL ID requirements, the deadline was pushed back to May 3, 2023. Now, that too has been postponed. In December, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced another two-year extension, bringing the compliance date to May 7, 2025 – a full 20 years after the law was enacted (and assuming there isn’t another delay).
REAL ID represents yet another in a long line of broken promises to the American people that our immigration laws would be enforced. Notably the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 delivered amnesty for nearly 3 million illegal aliens. In exchange, the American public was promised that our borders would be secured and that laws against employment of illegal aliens would be enforced. We know how that turned out.
In the 118th Congress, which convened this month, there will surely be efforts to grant amnesty to some or all of the more than 15 million illegal aliens living here “balanced” by pledges of future enforcement. Prior to the midterm elections, Republican leaders vowed to resist the Sirens’ Song of Amnesty Now and Enforcement Later, which inevitably means Enforcement Never. Now that they control the House of Representatives, FAIR intends to hold them to that promise.
FAIR’s objective – which, according to exit polling the organization commissioned after the midterms, is shared by large majorities of Americans – is making sure our borders are controlled, our political asylum laws are not blatantly abused, and our immigration laws are enforced. Those goals will be a heavy lift, given the Biden administration’s adamant opposition to any sort of enforcement, and there will be inevitable temptation for some in Congress to trade immediate and tangible benefits for illegal aliens for nice sounding promises of future enforcement that everyone knows will never be kept.
As we begin the 118th Congress, FAIR remains firm in our opposition to any immigration legislation that does not first deliver on promises that have already been made to the American people, and subsequently broken.