REAL ID Passes: Congress Takes Measures to Restrict Drivers’ Licenses

By: Attys. Robert L. Reeves and Nathan Graham

The ill-conceived measures of REAL-ID have been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush. Many of the provisions of REAL-ID are identical to the same provisions that were highly criticized by the White House and subsequently dropped from the military appropriations and anti-terrorism bill that was passed by Congress a mere five months ago. The only discernible basis for the complete reversal of the President’s conviction that these provisions are bad policy for the U.S. and irrelevant to the war on terrorism is the elapsing of a few months. The earlier bill enacted several of the recommendations of the 911 Commission aimed at real progress in the war against terrorism, and designed to make concrete steps to protect the American people at home from terrorist attacks. REAL-ID not only takes steps to negate the efficacy of those provisions by encouraging the growth of an illegal, underground population of people who live in the U.S. outside the notice of the government, but also scapegoats immigrants as being part of the terrorist problem, and inadvertently facilitates and legitimizes the continued persecution and tyranny carried out upon innocents by unjust totalitarian, military, and theocratic dictatorships around the world. Further, and perhaps most disturbing, REAL-ID deals a major blow to the U.S.’s long-treasured democratic commitment to being a safe haven for legitimate asylum seekers. And rather than resulting from careful consideration by government leaders, all this has been accomplished through clandestine meetings, suspicious closed door sessions, and pressured, rushed voting with virtually no actual debate or discussion on the floor in a nefarious Congressional game of hide-the-shell where paranoid, xenophobic prejudices toward immigrants holds sway over reason and deliberation. Due to the importance and far-reaching effects that REAL-ID will have on immigration law, a subsequent article will discuss significant revisions of asylum law.

REAL-ID imposes burdensome and costly requirements on states designed to prevent the issuance of drivers’ licenses to millions of immigrants (and all U.S. citizens) who cannot present acceptable identification and proof of legal status. The list of acceptable status that is enumerated in the law is too narrow, and does not include some legal forms of status, such as nonimmigrants who are waiting for approval of extensions of their stay but whose current visas have expired. Thus, many immigrants present legally and merely awaiting adjudication of their papers will be unable to obtain or renew drivers’ licenses, only further increasing the ranks of unlicensed, uninsured drivers on U.S. highways. The costs associated with uninsured motorist protection for automobile insurance policies can be expected to rise sharply as well. The practical effect of this law will be mass confusion in DMV offices throughout the country, as DMV employees who are untrained and uneducated in immigration laws will be expected to enforce them.

These provisions hinder the War on Terrorism also, as they will result in the removal of millions of records from government information databases that are used as an invaluable source for federal and state law enforcement agencies. Thus, potentially millions more people throughout the U.S. will be left in the shadows with no way for state or federal governments to track, monitor, or identify them. Terrorists will be able to remain even more anonymous and untraceable without vital information or biographical data such as their pictures, names, birth dates, or addresses being available in databases such as state motor vehicle records.

REAL-ID contains other harmful provisions, including the restriction of a federal judge’s authority to review cases where immigrants have been unfairly denied and are being deported by the Department of Homeland Security. The writ of habeas corpus, which was utilized by attorneys to request that a judge halt the removal of an immigrant until the judge was able to review an appeal that raised substantial issues and had a likelihood of success on its merits, is no longer available under REAL-ID.

The effects of REAL-ID are wide-ranging, and any immigrants to the U.S. should be aware of the possible negative effects the law could have on their case. Any immigrants worried about these provisions are encouraged to contact our offices to discuss their case with an attorney.