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Real ID & Immigrants’ Rights

August, 2007
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Under the Real ID Act, DMV agents will be required to make complicated judgments about a person’s lawful status in the United States, effectively charging state license-issuing agencies with enforcing federal immigration law. Given the high degree of complexity of immigration laws, the inevitable result of this policy will be, at best, long delays and increased bureaucratic hurdles for all drivers’ license applicants and immigrant applicants in particular. At its worst, we can expect hundreds of thousands of immigrants to lose their drivers’ licenses. In some cases this will be a result of errors made by DMV agents, hardly trained experts on the subject, as they unsuccessfully attempt to sort through complex immigration laws. In others, thousands of hard-working immigrants who cannot comply with the Real ID Act’s strict documentation requirements will suddenly become ineligible for a “Real ID” drivers’ license. The Real ID Act allows states to issue non-Real ID-compliant drivers’ licenses and identification cards. However, the licenses and ID cards must explicitly state that they do not meet Real ID requirements, thus serving as a “scarlet letter” of unlawful immigration status. Immigrants who do not hold or cannot prove lawful status will be deterred from applying for these “non-compliant” licenses. The scenario of potentially hundreds of thousands of immigrants in New York State losing their drivers’ license is particularly troubling for a number of reasons. — Unable to drive, many of hard-working New Yorkers would lose their means of transportation to get to and from work, and would therefore lose their jobs. This would present serious economic consequences for the individuals affected, but also for the state as a whole. For example, the agricultural industry, New York State’s second largest, depends heavily on migrant and seasonal workers, many of whom would be ineligible for licenses if the Real ID Act is implemented. — Furthermore, the implementation of the Real ID Act would likely be detrimental to public safety. With an ID card that visually designates immigration status, undocumented people will be afraid to cooperate with police and other safety officials for fear of persecution. The Real ID Act will significantly compromise public safety by sending immigrants further into the shadows and keeping them distanced from public safety and law enforcement officials. — Finally, deputizing the Department of Motor Vehicles to become an immigration enforcement agency will lead to a rise in discrimination against individuals who appear to be from certain countries, regardless of their actual citizenship status. Department of Motor Vehicles agents will become reluctant to authorize driver’s licenses for individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds, and subject such individuals to additional scrutiny, in fear of violation of the Real ID Act requirements. For example, following the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which mandated that employers verify the immigrations status of their employees, there was a substantial increase in discrimination by employers.1 Visit our links page to learn more about the impact of the Real ID Act on immigrants rights. Footnotes 1 The General Accounting Office found that more than 10% of the 4.6 million employers surveyed practiced national origin discrimination. United States General Accounting Office, 1990, “Immigration Reform: Employer Sanctions and the Question of Discrimination,” Report to Congress, GAO/GGD-90-62, Washington, DC, available at (PDF). 

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