Four years have passed since Congress enacted an ambitious law, the Real ID Act, to avoid a repeat by making it tougher to obtain a driver’s license fraudulently. Yet compliance remains wildly inconsistent. … Now, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who previously was governor of Arizona, one of the lagging states, is proposing to junk Real ID and replace it with what she says is a practical compromise. But the new plan, Pass ID, appears to be a needless retreat.
Where states have had the will, progress has been substantial.
In 2003, fewer than half the states even bothered to check Social Security numbers provided by applicants against a federal database. Now, according to the Homeland Security Department, all of them do.
Before Real ID, even fewer states used federal data to verify documents immigrants used to prove they were in the U.S. legally. Now, all but a handful do. Maryland was one of the last holdouts, but after the state became a magnet for illegal immigrants seeking driver’s licenses, it changed its law and has begun verifying their status.
Several states have found a range of benefits. When Indiana checked its 6 million drivers against a Social Security database, it ended up invalidating 19,000 licenses that didn’t match. When it began using “facial recognition” technology to make its photos secure, the state caught a man who had 149 licenses with the same photo but different names.
The federal government should pay for the changes it demands. But it has already given states more than $130 million to tighten licensing procedures. Not enough, perhaps, but not a niggling amount, either, and hardly sufficient reason to cave in to the laggards.
Yet Pass ID would move in that direction.
It would weaken demands that states certify the legitimacy of documents. It would push back by years a requirement to verify the validity of birth certificates and remove the mandate for passport verification. It would also let states decide how to handle applicants whose Social Security numbers don’t match federal databases. Instead, the databases should be improved and made easy for the states to use.
Eight years after 9/11, requiring states to have credible driver’s licenses is not an extreme burden. But the evidence says all states will comply only if forced to do so.