In last night’s presidential debate, Governor Mitt Romney said that if elected, he would eliminate “magnets” that attract people to illegally reside in the United States. One magnet that he mentioned was the ability of undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Luckily for Governor Romney, he would not need Congress to pass another law to prevent illegal aliens from acquiring driver’s licenses. Such a statute already exists. It is called REAL ID.
Enacted in 2005, the REAL ID Act was a response to the 9/11 Commission recommendation of federal standards in state ID issuing procedures and card security. This recommendation resulted from the fact that 18 of the September 11 hijackers were able to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses from states like Virginia. The hijackers then used these IDs to board the planes on the morning of the attack.
REAL ID aims to prevent terrorists, illegal immigrants, and criminals from abusing our ID system while protecting Americans from identity theft and fraud. The act does so by calling on states to comply with a series of voluntary security standards in issuing state driver’s licenses and IDs. Specifically, one of these standards calls for states to ensure that driver’s license applicants are legally present in the United States.
Before implementing REAL ID standards in 2010, Maryland considered itself a magnet state for illegal immigrants seeking driver’s licenses. Since complying with the law, the state has come a long way in fighting fraud and abuse in its driver’s license system. Indeed, after passing legislation to comply with REAL ID, the state canceled 8,000 license application interviews in one day because applicants were not residents of Maryland. Other states have also reported a marked decrease in identity theft since complying with the law.
Ultimately, while opponents have argued that REAL ID is unrealistic and unachievable, the states have shown that this isn’t true. In fact, as of February 2012, 26 states have committed to meeting REAL ID’s material compliance standards.
With the benefits of REAL ID, it’s time to encourage interested states to move forward in complying with the law.
Steven Ballew is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.