The Real ID: Big Brother's Comin' Our Way

Federally mandated ID card will be linked to at least a half-dozen or more databases

The road is bumpy as Texas heads toward compliance with Real ID, the federally mandated state-issued identification card that will go into effect next year.

Haven't heard much about it? Texas is one of the states that, for the most part, has been silent on the implementation of Real ID. The new card -- which will replace driver's licenses in most states over the next six years -- will be linked by a common machine-read technology to at least a half-dozen or more databases, will be required to board planes and enter federal buildings, and will be the gold standard for verifying the cardholder is a legal United States resident.

Think the lines are long now to renew your driver's license? Just wait. With Real ID, the renewal or replacement of your driver's license in Texas over the Internet is over. You, like 16 million other legal Texas residents, will line up at your local driver's license office, equipped with up to three forms of identification, to verify your citizenship.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who just finished her term as the president of the National Conference of State Legislat­ures, says the most recent estimates indicate Texas would have to hire an additional 700 state employees to handle the new demands on the system. Oh, and by the way, that system is supposed to be in place by May of next year, although final regulations are still 30-60 days away.

"They're telling us that even if we hire another 700 employees, running at 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we will not be able to fit 16 million residents into that five-year window," Van de Putte said. "That doesn't even [count] the problems we're probably going to have with securing and verifying documentation."

Although the target of the ID is terrorists, who used forged driver's licenses to board the airplanes on 9/11, the ones caught in the Real ID net likely will be lawful permanent residents. Illegal immigrants already are denied a Texas driver's license, says attorney Leslie Helmcamp, who heads up the immigration legal-services program at Catholic Charities. Lawful residents, though, carry visas -- dozens of differing, colorful, confusing visas -- that are likely to cause plenty of consternation.

"Even those people who have documents often are refused services at different levels of the state and local government," Helm­camp says. "The individual who is reviewing their identification frequently is unaware of the type of documentation they're seeing. Maybe they haven't seen it before, or they haven't been trained. There are dozens of types of nonresident visas that are used in this country."

And even some legal residents -- people who have lived in this country all their lives -- are expected to have trouble tracking down proper documentation. Van de Putte, for instance, was born on a military base in Washington state. She's going to have to go back and see whether the base filed her birth certificate with the state. Her mother, on the other hand, was born at home; her birth was recorded only with the Catholic Church.

For all this trouble, the federal government has appropriated a whopping $40 million to date to cover what is expected to be an $11 billion tab over the next five years. Some states -- Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington -- have refused to comply with the new mandate. A dozen others are urging a repeal or redrafting of the law. Idaho simply refused to fund it.

States had plenty of reasons to complain: The cost of security -- from database firewalls to the physical security of driver's license offices -- is still unclear. The software and databases -- and the privacy of those databases -- is still uncertain. The costs could be in the millions for each state. And the entire exercise forces states to stretch the original purpose of driver's licenses from driving and age verification to citizenship and even employment verification, if some lawmakers get their way.

Maine simply refused. Speaking to lawmakers at last week's National Conference of State Legislatures in Boston, Maine Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell said Maine residents were a private bunch and Maine lawmakers decided that private industry -- specifically, the airline industry -- would not put up with requirements that might curtail business.

As for Texas, Van de Putte said two bills were drafted during the last session, but without specific regulations to present to lawmakers, the effort was abandoned. Instead, the state is expected to make its changes by rule instead of statute.

For more information on Real ID, see

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