Say “No” to National ID: Support Baucus-Tester Amendment to S. 1348

Media 06.7,07

Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we write in strong support of the Baucus-Tester Amendment #1236 to S. 1348. The amendment would strike provisions of S. 1348 that expand the fatally-flawed “REAL ID Act of 2005.”

S. 1348 would require employers to verify both the (a) identity and (b) employment eligibility of all potential employees. This applies to both citizens and immigrants.However, after June 1, 2013, only state-issued drivers’ licenses or ID cards that comply with the REAL ID Act will be sufficient to establish identity. For most Americans, the only alternative will be to present a U.S. passport – which most Americans currently do not have, and which currently costs $97 to obtain (a price certain to increase by 2013).

S. 1348 also delays the implementation of Title IV (temporary workers) and most of Title VI (legalization) until the employment eligibility verification provisions in Title III – which rely extensively on the REAL ID Act – are “funded, in place, and in operation.”

These provisions take one of Congress’ biggest mistakes in recent years, and make it even worse. Enacted with no hearings, with minimal debate, and rushed into law as part of an unrelated emergency spending measure, the REAL ID Act mandates drastic and expensive changes to the way states produce drivers’ licenses and other forms of ID. When it was enacted, it dictated that non-compliant state ID cards would no longer be accepted for any “official purpose” by any federal agency – including by the TSA at commercial airport security checkpoints. Under S. 1348, non-compliant cards would also no longer be acceptable for employment.

LCCR strongly opposed the REAL ID Act. While proponents argued it would make air travel safer, a dubious claim in itself, we expressed concern that it would evolve into a defacto “national ID” law over time. S. 1348 is a huge step forward in this disturbing trend. Yet the REAL ID Act still remains completely unworkable, for many reasons:

• The Department of Homeland Security estimates that it will cost $23 billion for states to comply with the law. These costs will certainly mean drastically higher fees for drivers’ licenses, tax increases, ballooning state deficits, or cuts in other vital state expenditures – not to mention far longer waits at DMV facilities.

• The law requires states to verify each document (birth certificate, utility bill, passport, etc.) that applicants use to prove identity, with the agency that issued it. Yet states still do not have useful standards for what counts as adequate “verification,” a uniform system to obtain it, or a way to compel assistance from uncooperative agencies.

• The law requires states to determine the citizenship or immigration status of every applicant for an ID card. Yet states do not have the infrastructure to get this information, and state DMV employees simply do not have the expertise in immigration law – a subject that rivals tax law in its complexity – to interpret it in a fair and accurate manner.

• The law requires states to set up new computerized databases that share personal details of ID card holders with other states and the federal government. This opens the door to identity theft on a potentially massive scale.

• The law gives DMV employees the authority to determine whether someone is a citizen or not before issuing a card, which could easily lead to discrimination against U.S. citizens who may look or sound “foreign.” Other citizens simply will not have birth certificates or other types of documentation required to get a REAL ID card.

A majority of state legislatures have already expressed grave concerns about the REAL ID Act or called for its repeal. Four states – Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, and Washington – have gone so far as to prohibit compliance. This week, the legislatures of two more states – Maine and South Carolina – passed laws that will do the same.

Under S. 1348, as it is currently written, most citizens in these six states (and in other states that refuse to comply with the REAL ID Act) will no longer be able to obtain new jobs in 2013 unless they (a) present a $97 U.S. passport, if they can, or (b) join the estimated twelve million “undocumented workers” already present in our country.

To avoid this absurd outcome, and to keep the REAL ID Act from causing even more problems than it already promises to cause, we strongly urge you to support the Baucus-Tester amendment.

Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Rob Randhava, LCCR Counsel, at 202-466-6058 or at [email protected].


Wade Henderson                              Nancy Zirkin
President & CEO                               Vice President / Director of Public Policy