The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has eased the pressure on states to comply with its controversial Real ID requirements.
DHS announced this week that it has granted Real ID extensions to every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia and all five U.S. territories.
The 9/11 Commission stressed the need for secure identification documents and Congress issued mandates in the Real ID Act of 2005. It requires states to incorporate information and security features in identification cards and drivers' licenses, obtain proof of identity and U.S. citizenship or legal status of applicants, verify the source if applicants' documents, and set security standards for the offices that issue the cards. Congress imposed a May 11 deadline for state compliance.
Several states, including Maine, Arizona, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Washington, opposed the Real ID Act because of costs and privacy concerns. The National Governors Association, the American Bar Association, the American Conservative Union, the Council of State Governments, Gun Owners of America, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and other groups also opposed the Real ID Act.
Maine was the first state to pass a bill opposing the act and the last state to meet the requirements for an extension. This week, the state agreed to plan for secure identification. If the state had not acted, DHS would have barred airport workers from accepting Maine drivers' licenses from people wishing to board commercial aircraft and security officers would have prevented use of the driver's licenses for access to some federal buildings and property after May 11.
Maine Governor John Baldacci promised to try and pass a law stopping the state's practice of issuing licenses to illegal U.S. residents. He also took steps to pass state laws that would bring Maine closer to an agreement with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policies and use of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program to verify documents presented by noncitizens. Baldacci's legislation would also cause licenses issued to legal noncitizens to expire when the alien's legal status ends.
He also said lawmakers and state officials would evaluate methods, like using facial recognition or similar technology, to ensure that people don't have more than one Maine ID.
Earlier this year, DHS realized that many states could not meet the requirements of the Real ID Act by May 11. The extensions give states until Dec. 31, 2009, to implement the requirements.
By Dec. 1, 2014, people who are 50 years old and under will be required to present compliant identification to board commercial aircraft or access certain federal facilities. By Dec. 1, 2017, all state-issued licenses and identification cards must be Real ID-compliant.