Reality ID check

Our view: Maryland's Real ID concerns demonstrate the need to rethink federal mandate

December 18, 2008

Time for an ID check, Janet Napolitano.

As governor of Arizona, Ms. Napolitano vigorously opposed the federal Real ID driver's license program and signed legislation to forbid her state from fully cooperating with it. Now, as President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she needs to push for relief to states like Maryland that will soon have to spend millions of dollars to comply with this controversial measure.

Real ID is not only expensive and inconvenient (unless something changes soon, we'll all be tracking down certified copies of birth certificates to prove our citizenship), but it's likely a trivial deterrent to terrorism. Can a state-sanctioned terrorist come up with phony documents good enough to fool not a CIA agent but an entry-level Motor Vehicle Administration clerk? As Sarah Palin might say, you betcha. Not to mention that the next homegrown terrorist won't have to worry about it at all.

States don't have to fully implement Real ID for a while yet, but Maryland faces a difficult decision in a matter of weeks: Gov. Martin O'Malley will soon ask the General Assembly to amend state law so that foreign-born driver's license applicants must show they're here legally.

Applicants already have to prove they are who they say they are to the MVA. But they haven't had to document their immigration status, at least not in Maryland and some other states.

If the intent of the Republican-led Congress that approved Real ID in 2005 was to strike a blow against illegal immigration, lawmakers missed the mark. At most, it will mean that a lot more undocumented immigrants will be driving without a license. That won't make the roads any safer or immigrants' lives any better.

Maryland could choose not to comply. Aides to Mr. O'Malley say he doesn't believe he can go that route since the federal government is threatening to eventually ban people without an approved driver's license from commercial flights.

With the recession in full swing, the last thing Maryland taxpayers need is to spend another $12 million or more on computer software and bureaucrats at the MVA. It's a sacrifice that's not justified by the realities of Real ID.

Mr. Obama, his homeland security secretary, and the new Congress may have more urgent matters on their plate, but the clock is ticking on this one too. Let's not waste any more time and money on this inconvenient, ineffective mandate.

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