REAL ID Creeps Into the Immigration Debate
June 5, 2007
Congress is back from its spring recess and the hot topic for debate is immigration reform (S. 1348). While the public debate has been focusing on guest worker programs and border fences, a small but important component of the proposed legislation has been overlooked: the immigration bill's mandate that all potential employees present a REAL ID card before they can work. The immigration bill that is currently being considered by Congress requires all American citizens and qualified aliens to prove that they are authorized to work in this country. For U.S. citizens, this means that they must present either a passport, or a REAL ID driver's license/state identification card plus a Social Security Card. Moreover, the bill requires employers to copy and store these highly valuable personal documents. CDT strongly opposes the immigration bill's REAL ID mandate. This is precisely the sort of mission creep that we have been concerned about since the beginning of the REAL ID debate. The Department of Homeland Security's proposed regulations to implement the REAL ID Act appropriately limit the required uses for the REAL ID card to those specifically called out in the statute: accessing federal facilities, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, and entering nuclear power plants. Yet the immigration bill mandates a fourth use, and there are proposals being put forth to mandate additional uses for the REAL ID card such as receiving federal housing benefits (H.R. 1427). The immigration bill promises not to "authorize, directly or indirectly, the issuance or use of national identification cards or the establishment of a national identification card." But that is the direction this bill is taking us. Without thoughtful policy restraint, the REAL ID card could eventually be required for every meaningful transaction with government and private entities. Under such a scenario, an individual would not be able to function in society without his or her REAL ID driver's license or state identification card. We also believe that the immigration bill's REAL ID mandate is extremely irresponsible given that the Act and DHS's proposed regulations create serious privacy and security risks. For example, there is a serious possibility that the REAL ID system will include a central ID database that holds personal information on virtually all Americans. And as of right now there are no meaningful limitations on who can access personal information and for what purposes, nor specifications on how information contained in government databases and in the card's machine-readable zone will be secured. CDT's work on the identity issue is available here. These privacy and security concerns, as well as funding problems, have placed the future of REAL ID in limbo. Several states are rebelling against implementation and there are bills in both the Senate (S. 717) and House (H.R. 1117) to approach driver's license reform in a better way. REAL ID proponents have often said, to alleviate concerns, that compliance with the Act is "voluntary." But requiring employees to present a REAL ID card before they can work hardly makes state participation a meaningful choice. CDT supports the amendment to the immigration bill proposed by Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester from Montana that would take out all references to the REAL ID Act.