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Holding Pattern: Illinois must comply with the national identification law in the next year

Citizens and immigrants should start gathering documents to prove their identities. A year from May, a 2005 federal law will require everyone to use standard, tamper-proof ID cards to board airplanes, to enter federal buildings and to conduct other activities that could affect homeland security.

The law, called the Real ID Act, requires states to satisfy minimum requirements for the security of driver's licenses and ID cards, raising opposition about the privacy risks of a national system for identification.

For now, the bare bones Real ID Act simply requires each person in the United States to prove his or her identification with a birth certificate, Social Security number and address in order to get a federally approved ID card. Residents who can't get a Social Security number will have to use a passport, the only non-U.S. document accepted for verification.

Illinois consumers might not notice much difference in the look of their driver's licenses or ID cards, but they could be annoyed by long lines at driver's license facilities if, as estimated, about 12.8 million Illinoisans need to renew information and pictures in person starting in spring 2008. In addition, immigrants, documented and undocumented, will have to prove their right to be in the country or continue to live in the shadows.

The secretary of state's office is in for a jolt, too, because it could have to roll out new systems to confirm each person's information in a national database. 

But Illinois officials, as well as officials from other states, don't yet know what those changes — or the associated costs — will be because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hasn't issued rules for confirming documents and identities. 

Further, any regulations the agency proposes will be subject to public comment before they can be implemented, leaving state lawmakers little time this session to approve necessary changes to state law.

The delay led eight states to propose legislation opposing Real ID unless the program receives full funding and assures that it won't violate privacy rights. Maine voted to flat out ignore the law. New Mexico is considering a measure to prevent implementation of the act and to restrict funding for study of the potential rules and effects of Real ID.

Congress also is expected to consider legislation that would repeal Real ID. Sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, the measure aims to give states flexibility in producing tamper-resistant licenses and protect civil liberties. "The federal government should not be in charge of defining and issuing driver's licenses," he said in a statement. "I agree that we need clear standards and anti-fraud measures for driver's licenses, but states need to be part of the solution."

He expects to revive the measure that stalled in the previous Congress. 

Immigrant advocates, meanwhile, warn that federal ID requirements will prevent some legal immigrants from getting driver's licenses. Further, they caution that the requirements could distract attention from the need for national immigration reform.

Other opponents, including Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute, argue that enforcing a federal ID card could be a costly and ineffective way of dealing with the underlying issue of terrorism.

One estimated cost tops $11 billion over five years, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. So far, Congress has only earmarked $40 million to help states implement the law.

The logistical challenges and the threat of an unfunded mandate have put the Real ID Act into the top tier of issues facing states this spring, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The nonpartisan group of lawmakers ranks immigration No. 1. 

Illinois is among the states considering ways to deal with both issues and to prepare for the financial consequences of each. But without much federal help, state-level programs for immigration and Real ID would have to compete with other major budget items: Medicaid, public employee pensions, debt and new spending.

So far, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says this state is ahead of the game in implementing Real ID. Illinois, for instance, was one of the first states to use the Department of Homeland Security's electronic system to confirm information on driver's licenses. Still, Illinois and every other state is in a holding pattern waiting for federal rules — and funding.

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich prepares his state budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, the secretary of state's office estimates it would need roughly $25 million in the first year and $150 million over five years. 

"I think it's fair to say we're anticipating that there will be a need for hiring," says James Burns, inspector general for the secretary of state. He has overseen Illinois' preparation for Real ID, which he says started off in a cloud of controversy in the previous Congress.

Originally, the 9/11 Commission recommended developing minimum federal standards that would be agreed to by the states and the feds and allow individual states the flexibility to meet their specific needs. However, that proposal was changed by Congress. As written, the law enforces federally determined minimum security requirements, which some see as an encroachment by the feds on what has historically been state jurisdiction, Burns says. Congress also folded the law into an emergency measure that earmarked more federal dollars to national defense, the fight against terrorism and tsunami relief. 

"Now, if you're sitting in the Congress, would you vote against that one?" Burns says. "The bottom line is there was little or no debate on this bill, which caused quite a furor with some of the governors around the country, and some of the legislators, because they viewed it as one of those federal mandates that is going to probably not be fully funded, maybe only piddly funded."

Yet supporters, particularly law enforcement, saw a legitimate need for a national policy.

When the Real ID Act was signed in May 2005, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, an Illinois Republican, issued a statement championing the law. "The 19 terrorists of September 11 were holding 63 state driver's licenses for identification, which they used to board our airplanes and murder nearly 3,000 of our citizens," he wrote. "Lax standards and loopholes in the current issuance processes allowed the terrorists to abuse those licenses for their destructive agenda."

He added that the new national standards would help prevent terrorists from getting those legal state driver's licenses.

Illinois already meets most of the federal law's provisions, including requiring digital photos, verifying Social Security numbers in an online database and establishing proof of residency with utility bills.

But the additional cost to Illinois will depend on the pending federal rules. For example, Burns says, each staff member might need a background check and training to identify fake documents. Computer systems could need a major revamp to satisfy rules for authenticating documents. And if the feds require all states to issue driver's licenses from a central location, Illinois would have to change its system of issuing licenses over the counter on the day of renewal.

"If you look at the act itself, a lot of it seems straightforward," Burns says. 

"Illinois is in good shape with the big-picture stuff. But then you start getting into the details, and you start getting the anecdotal stuff."

If someone lost his or her ID card, if a person doesn't want a photo taken for religious reasons or if an immigrant who is a college student has to renew a license on an annual basis, the process gets more complicated.

"When you multiply those in a state of 13 million residents, and then you add the number of people that are coming in and you start getting into the problems with immigrants, it becomes more complex," he says.

The Real ID Act brings more attention to immigration, too. State lawmakers already are considering ways to act while Congress remains gridlocked. 

Illinois' immigrant population ranks in the top five nationwide. In January 2005, Illinois was home to about 500,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics. There also were nearly 750,000 immigrants who had permission to be in Illinois for a specified time. They include students, tourists and temporary workers.

Last year, Illinois legislators tried to form a False Identification Task Force to study ways to crack down on illegal driver's licenses. State Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Republican, was one lawmaker supporting the study because he used to deal with fake ID cards when he managed special projects for the Illinois Secretary of State Police.

"Identity theft is a rapidly growing crime in Illinois and nationally, and that has to do often with bogus documents," Froehlich says. "Until we deal with the half a million illegal immigrants, we will continue to have a problem there, people needing documents to work and to drive."

If immigrants could legally obtain the right to drive, then they wouldn't have the incentive to drive without a license or car insurance, he says. He supports a measure allowing immigrants to get a driver's certificate rather than a federal license that would need to comply with Real ID. Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat, introduced the measure last January, but it stalled in the House. It's expected to be revived this session.

Rep. Susana Mendoza, a Chicago Democrat and a member of the Latino Caucus who supports the measure, says opponents of the driver's certificate proposal think in terms of punishment. "They think, 'Well, they're here illegally, so they shouldn't have any rights. They shouldn't have any privileges.'"

She says she believes the contrary, that if undocumented immigrants gained permission to be on the roadways, then they would have to abide by other rules of getting car insurance and making sure their cars are in safe operating condition.

A driver's certificate wouldn't satisfy federal ID requirements or allow undocumented immigrants to get on airplanes starting next spring, but Mendoza says she believes Real ID could be a good thing if it helps immigrants get the documentation they need so they no longer have to hide.

"I think any time we can bring people out of those shadows and try to incorporate them into society is a better thing," she says. "When we talk about homeland security, the way we can be safe is by knowing who everybody is and where everyone lives. And if you're constantly having to move around because you're afraid of being found out, then we're never going to have a good pulse as to who's living in our communities and what people are up to."

Knowing someone's identity doesn't necessarily reveal his or her intentions, says Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute. He opposes the Real ID Act because he says a national ID card provides a false sense of security, repeats history — "Your papers, please" — and risks putting technology to use against society.

"When the ID that they issue is so central to our access to goods, services and infrastructure, that means the government has a great deal of control over our lives," he says.

He also foresees problems with individual security. Comparing an ID card to a ring of keys, Harper says each key protects a different physical asset. A standardized, national ID card, on the other hand, could risk functioning as a single key to someone's complete information, including financial, communication and health records.

"It's convenient for governments. It's efficient for law enforcement. It's just insecure for individuals," he says. 

"It's true that a national ID would make it more difficult to access the country," he adds. "It wouldn't be so difficult, though, to get fake documents."

Harper says a more effective method for dealing with immigrants is to focus on creating legal channels for people to enter and leave the country. The policy debate of national security, he says, should focus on preventing someone — citizen or not — from having the tools and the methods to carry out an attack.

In the meantime, states will try to prepare for the logistical and financial hit of the Real ID Act based on a series of "ifs." Burns of the Illinois secretary of state's office says there's been a lot of hand-wringing, some valid, some unnecessary, in anticipation of dealing with the sheer numbers of people needing new ID cards and with the possibility of revamping computer systems.

Future "what ifs" could continue to spark concern over logistics and costs. What if the national ID card is needed for more and more actions and stretches into the private sector? What if a Real ID card is needed to get a loan or an insurance policy? What if the feds eventually require retina scans, computerized chips in the ID cards and other technologically advanced methods of proving identification?

While Congress continues to debate how far the feds can go in the name of national security without creating a Big Brother society, states and their citizens still need to prepare documents to prove who's legally allowed to be part of the current society. 

 

States consider ways to cope with Real ID

As of late January, eight states were considering or had approved legislation opposing the federal Real ID Act unless it's fully funded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Two states approved measures to ignore the law.

Georgia A measure was introduced in January requiring the state to wait to comply with certain provisions of the federal law until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security spells out ways the Real ID Act won't violate "economic safety or biological sanctity."

Kansas A resolution was filed, then withdrawn, last May that would have urged Congress to repeal the Real ID Act.

Massachusetts A measure that was filed in January would resolve not to comply with the Real ID Act until the feds fully fund the mandate. It also urges Congress to repeal the Real ID Act until it is fully funded.

Maine The House and Senate approved a measure to refuse to comply with Real ID and to urge Congress to repeal the act.

Montana The legislature is considering a measure that would direct the Montana Department of Justice and the motor vehicle administration not to participate in the federal law and to report to the governor if the feds try to require implementation. Another measure is in the works that would nullify Real ID altogether.

New Hampshire The House and Senate failed to agree on changes to a measure that originally was intended to prohibit the state from participating in a national ID card system and to analyze the act.

New Mexico A measure introduced in January would resolve that the state not implement any Real ID Act rules that violate constitutional rights. It also would only allow the state to earmark funds to study the effects of Real ID and would urge Congress to repeal the act.

Washington The legislature is considering a measure prohibiting state agencies from complying with the federal law unless money comes from the feds. It also would authorize the state attorney general to challenge the Real ID Act.


Illinois Issues, March 2007

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