Kelly Calls for Full Implementation of REAL ID

By Benjamin Dierker on June 8, 2017

In yesterday's House Homeland Security Committee hearing that I mentioned in my previous post, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly used part of his opening statement to address government-issued identification cards as a measure to bolster national security. The hearing was on DHS reauthorization and the presidential budget request, but Kelly slipped in his own request for support for full implementation of the REAL ID Act. (His written statement did not mention it, but he did in his oral testimony.)

The REAL ID Act was passed 12 years ago following the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Its purpose is to create national standards for state-issued identification cards such as driver's licenses, so that only documents meeting the standards could be used for "official purposes," including air travel, entrance to federal government buildings, or access to nuclear power plants.

There have been gaps in compliance with the law. Despite Kelly saying this is a "critically important" policy, to date only 26 states and territories have been certified by DHS as compliant. Another 26 have been granted extensions for more time to comply, and four states have taken no action nor received an extension. He told the committee, "In those 12 years since the law was passed, some in elected or appointed state and federal positions have chosen to drag their feet or even ignore this federal law. I will not."

Fully implementing the REAL ID Act "will make America safer," according to Kelly. With some states having more liberal policies on issuance of identification cards, having a national standard for official use is important. In some states, illegal aliens can acquire state-issued photo ID. Without the standards set out in REAL ID, an unlawful resident of the United States may gain access to a building in which only lawful citizens have rightful access. Or actors with mal intent may forge a state ID from an unfamiliar jurisdiction and wreak havoc with it. Many of these types of non-citizen driver's licenses or other identification cards are marked as unofficial or "not valid for federal identification," but the variations by state could lead to confusion that REAL ID seeks to eliminate.

REAL ID is not a national identification card, though critics ascribe that effect to it, regardless of the law's intent. The law simply establishes requirements that valid government-issued cards must have. The law does not make a standard template or require the same typeface, layout, and font, but it does require certain information be present (e.g. name, gender, date of birth), and that verification of legal status be implicit with the issuance of the card. The cards must also meet a standard for security to prevent fraudulent cards from being made.