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Congress passed the Real ID Act and President Bush signed it into law in May 2005. It was tacked onto a “must-pass” spending bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide relief for victims of the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Real ID Act contains five sections, most of which address immigration issues. The first provision revises the procedure for granting asylum status. The third attempts to strengthen border security. The fourth and fifth provisions amend rules for allowing temporary workers to enter the country. Title II of the Real ID Act provides that after May 11, 2008, state-issued driver's licenses and identity documents will not be accepted by the federal government for “official purposes” unless they meet certain conditions, including:
  1. standardized data elements and security features on driver's licenses. At a minimum, all licenses would contain the carrier's full legal name, birth date, gender, driver's license number, photograph, principle address and signature.
  2. presence of a "machine-readable zone" on the license to allow for the easy capture of information contained on a license
  3. connectivity to a 50-state, interlinked database making driver's personal information available to the federal government, U.S. territories and every DMV office in the country
  4. proof of a driver license applicant's full legal name, date of birth, Social Security Number, principal address and lawful status in the United States
  5. state verification of every document presented at motor vehicles agencies as part of an application for a Real ID card
States may continue issuing licenses and ID cards that do not comply with Real ID, but the law requires those documents be clearly marked as unacceptable by the federal government for official purposes. The law defines “official purposes” as including, but not limited to, accessing federal facilities, boarding commercial aircraft, entering nuclear power plants, and any other purposes that the Secretary of Homeland Security determines. The law does not limit potential uses for Real IDs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in charge of administering the law, has boasted about the potential of Real IDs to regulate voting, gun ownership, immigration, and Social Security and other federal benefit programs. DHS's final regulations for implementing the law, released in January 2008, authorize states, local governments and the private sector to require Real IDs wherever and whenever they choose. People would need them to function normally, making Real IDs America's first-ever national ID cards. The final regulations move the deadline for beginning to comply with Real ID to Dec. 31, 2009 for any state that requests an extension. This is an attempt to pacify state anger about the program, which state government officials have called impossible to implement. States meeting key benchmarks toward compliance could receive additional extension to May 10, 2011. Residents younger than 50 in states certified compliant will have until Dec. 1, 2014 to obtain Real IDs. Those 50 or older will have until Dec. 1, 2017. While the final regulations extend deadlines, they fail to solve Real ID's fundamental problems, including its high cost, the threat to privacy to Americans and the increased risk of identity theft. Click here for the full text of the Real ID Act (PDF).

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