Currently, the state of Massachusetts does not have any federal sanctions against issuing driver’s licenses to the state’s residents without prior confirmation of their citizenship status. However, beginning April, 2014 Massachusetts locals will be restricted from entering certain building of the federal government using just their driving licenses. In order to access these buildings Massachusetts authorities will be required to participate in the Homeland Security “Real ID” verification program.
If the state refuses to participate in the verification program, the state residents will be banned from entering sensitive areas, which can include, for instance, a nuclear power plants or even the White House for a regular tour, without carrying and presenting an official identification documentation such as a US passport.
Later, in 2016, the sanctions will become more severe – for instance, the state residents will be stopped from boarding commercial airplanes without showing a proper identification document to the airport security.
The program is an important part of the Department of Homeland Security attempts to make 12 states, including Massachusetts, to comply with the 2005 law requirements, which increased the number of conditions for getting a driver’s license. According to the current legislature the states ought to mandate to a proper verification that a driver’s license applicant is indeed a citizen or a legal resident of the United States. The law’s objective is to minimize the risk of terrorists who do not have a legal immigration status from boarding the commercial airplanes.
Nevertheless, the authorities in Maine, Massachusetts and the other 10 states have not implemented the law yet. The states representatives say that the law is quite costly and difficult to implement, and more importantly, the violation of the rights of a state.
Additionally, Maine secretary of state Matthew Dunlap stated in his interview that it is the state’s responsibility to issue driver’s licenses and the federal government cannot force such a law on them. In Dunlap’s opinion these things are the reason that it was such a problem in carrying out this law.
Due to this controversy, the Homeland Security has postponed carrying out the law more than three times.
Back in March 2013, Republican state Senators Michael Knapik, Richard Ross, Bruce E. Tarr and Robert Hedlund sent a letter to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in which they urged the state to implement and follow the law. According to a senator Tarr they have not been given a satisfactory response from the governor’s administration.
Tarr also said that he does not think that driver’s licenses issued in Massachusetts will hold their current legality and standing for very long throughout the US.
Registrar Blue, however, said that the state officials are currently working with the Homeland Security in order to deal with their existing concerns and that the state is grateful to the Homeland Security for shared recommendations and effective methods to implement the law used by other states.
The Homeland Security’s spokeswoman Marsha Catron said that the Department of Homeland Security will keep helping the states to increase the security in order to make the local communities safer. Currently, the states that participate in the verification program have a star featured on their driver’s licenses.
Last December the Homeland Security released the statement that outlined its recent attempts to implement the law and the compliance with it. The Homeland Security officials also said that Real ID requirement is quite reasonable.
The law will only be implemented in locations and buildings where a valid form of identification is now mandatory to enter.
The real ID verification law was passed after the September 11 events and was recommended by the Commission’s final report, which suggested to increase the public safety by toughening driver’s license security.
On September 11, 2001, four out of nineteen hijackers showed driver’s licenses issued by states to get on the airplanes.
After the law was successfully passed, Congress established a 2008 due date for all states to implement the law. However, the several delays in implementing the law raise questions about the seriousness of Obama’s administration attempts to force states to comply with the law.
As stated by the National Conference of State Legislatures, just after the Real ID Verification program law was passed, a number of states adopted laws that minimized or delayed its enactment. However, Georgia and Utah, two of those states, implemented the law, and seven states currently have time extensions to follow the law.
Moreover, states, such as Vermont and Delaware, instead of using the Real ID verification program, use facial recognition software and other third parties’ technologies to confirm identities of driver’s license applicants.
Andrew Meehan, who is a policy director of Coalition of a Secure Driver’s License, said delays in implementing the Real ID law can cause a tremendous vulnerability from a viewpoint of a national security.
However, core complains about the Real ID law are about the low budget granted to the states to implement the law. Back in 2008 Homeland Security’s projection of the costs was around $3.9 billion, however, states have only been given $263 million in grants to assist them in the law implementation.
Meanwhile, while controversy is growing around the Real ID law, the Massachusetts Legislature is thinking about introducing the bill that would make it possible for illegal residents to get a driver’s license in the state of Massachusetts. The governor Patrick has already voiced out his support for issuing licenses to illegal immigrants in 2010.
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Eva A. Millona said that it is hard to get a driving license in states with the Real ID law if you are an undocumented immigrant. Millona also stated that for now their advocacy measures have allowed them to delay the Real ID law implementation even though the cost of implementing is the real reason of such delays.
Furthermore, Vermont was enforced to follow the law starting with January 1 this year, but at this moment is just issuing separate driver’s license to their residents who cannot confirm their legal status.
Director of operations for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles Michael Smith said that despite the increased wait times the procedures to implement the law went seamlessly.
Nevertheless, Homeland Security supports its new deadlines and confident about meeting them, state authorities state that a controversial situation that surrounds the law stays unsolved. “