Dump Real ID now

February 01, 2007

With a May 2008 start date looming, Congress' requirement that states use their driver's licensing authority to police illegal immigration and enforce a national identity program is sparking a nationwide rumble of resistance.

Mainers went first, with the state legislature voting nearly unanimously last week to call for the federal Real ID law's repeal. Montana, Hawaii, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont and Washington are not far behind. As many as 30 states, possibly including Maryland, are expected to join the cause. Once America's 245 million drivers discover the cost and inconvenience in store for them, the bellowing could be deafening.

Congress should not wait that long, though, to drive a stake through the heart of an absurd proposition that won't advance its goals of curbing illegal immigration and making the nation safer - and could well undermine both objectives. State transportation officials burdened with this $11 billion nightmare, including $100 million for Maryland alone, need to be let off the hook right away.

Objections to the program are practical as well as philosophical. The 9/11 commission recommended that the security of driver's licenses be improved, but the idea of requiring proof of citizenship came from a Congress seeking a simple way to stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

Immigration control is not a state responsibility, though, nor has the federal government come through with money to pay for it. What's more, people living and working in this country who are denied driver's licenses will drive anyway - but without the insurance they need a driver's license to buy. The Maryland legislature has repeatedly refused to limit driving privileges to legal residents.

Further, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not yet produced regulations directing states how to set up the program, including the onerous task of verifying birth certificates and other documents. Time is quickly running out.

The penalty for states that refuse to comply is that their driver's license will no longer be considered valid identification for air travel and other federal purposes.

But that was just more bullying from a Republican-led Congress bereft of better ideas. Democrats now in charge, many of whom voted against the program, should redirect time, money and effort toward security measures with a better chance of success.

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