New ID bill will harm thousands

News Analysis

Congress has passed legislation that will profoundly affect the way U.S. citizens live — and not for the better. Spearheaded by Republicans, the REAL ID Act carries with it dangerous provisions, including the creation of a giant central database and national ID card.

The legislation was added to HR 1268, the $82 billion supplemental spending bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in the middle of the night. It was inserted by the bill’s sponsors in exchange for the ultra-right’s support for the intelligence reform bill passed last fall. The anti-immigrant elements passed the House, but were removed from the Senate version. A House-Senate conference committee finalized language on the bill and some of its worst elements remain. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.

“The problem isn’t that they don’t have enough unchecked power to violate our privacy, it’s that they can’t be entrusted with the power they’ve grabbed to date,” the People’s Action Network said in its e-mail campaign to stop the legislation. “The worst thing we can do is place all of our most personal information in one abusable database, with identity theft already such a problem.”

It will become much harder not only for immigrants but also U.S. citizens to get or renew driver’s licenses. A driver will have to present four kinds of identification, including a birth certificate and proof of a Social Security number. It is not clear if citizenship papers for naturalized citizens will be accepted in lieu of a foreign birth certificate. For people who cannot meet the new criteria, states may provide a special driver’s license that indicates the bearer is not a legal alien.

Many states argue the Real ID provisions constitute an unfunded federal mandate that will cost them billions of dollars to implement. Secondly, the “birth certificate” requirement will cause untold problems. Many people do not have copies of their birth certificates and will have to scramble to contact their home city to get copies sent to them. The problem becomes more serious if records have been lost in fires or from other causes. What is someone to do in that case?

If state governments have to pay all the cost of this change, they will either have to cut other budget items, raise taxes or sharply raise fees for getting or renewing a driver’s license.

The bill continues the administration’s push to expand the definition of terrorism so as to give the government the right to deport or exclude law-abiding non-citizens on the basis of support for groups arbitrarily defined as terroristic.

All of these things are supposedly aimed at “illegal aliens” and “terrorists,” but they will also hurt many U.S. citizens.