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The Real ID Act Controversy


Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, several controversial laws were enacted in order to prevent future acts of terrorism. One of these laws was the Real ID Act, which was passed in May 2005. This law was enacted in order to establish national standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards as well as to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to use immigration laws to their advantage.

Currently, forms of identification, such as driver’s licenses, are issued by the states, not by the federal government. States set the rules for what data is found on any identification card, and the states also maintain databases of ID card holders.

Beginning on May 11, 2008, however, a federal agency will not be able to accept any identification card issued by a state unless it meets certain requirements. Most of these requirements are already used by the states. The main source of controversy regarding the Real ID Act is the fact that in order to obtain any state issued ID card the applicant must show that he or she is lawfully present in the United States. States will also be required to collect a variety of data including name, home address, Social Security number and other identifying information, and to keep it this information in a shared database accessible to all states and the federal government. In addition, if a state does not comply with the requirements of the act, it will not be able to receive any sort of federal funding.

This requirement will make it impossible for those who are in the U.S. without any legal immigration status to obtain a state issued identification card. Without this card, a person will be unable to obtain automobile insurance, travel on any airline, apply for Social Security, or even enter federal buildings.

The Real ID Act also contains provisions in order to prevent terrorists from using the asylum process in order to reside in the United States. The Act sets forth a more rigorous standard that will make it more difficult for an applicant to be granted asylum. Furthermore, the Real ID Act provides that an alien who contributes funds or other materials to support a terrorist organization is inadmissible and deportable unless he did not know, and should not have known, that he was helping a terrorist organization.

Congress estimated that the costs of implementing the Real ID Act would be approximately $100 million. New studies, however, suggest that states will incur costs of more than $11 billion in order to meet the requirements set forth by the Act.

Many of those in favor of immigration feel that these new rules put unreasonable burdens on aliens trying to prove they are escaping from persecution, and unnecessarily broaden the definition of terrorist activity such that many will suffer “guilt by association” even if they don’t support terrorism. In the end, most feel that the burdens, costs and legality of the Real ID Act outweigh any potential benefit that would result from its enforcement.

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I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law, Social Security Disability, Elder Law, Medicaid Planning for Long Term Care, and VA Benefits.

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