Lawmakers yesterday forced what was originally known as the Real ID bill through the House of Representatives; it's scheduled to pass the Senate next week. Didn't hear much debate over this sweeping bill before it passed? That's because there wasn't any. This version of the Real ID Act never received a hearing in either chamber of Congress. In a particularly odious trick, it was tacked on to the $82 billion supplemental appropriations bill which was designed to fund U.S. troops in Iraq. That bill must pass; thus the Real ID Act gets a free ride without any serious or conscientious discussion. The New York Times sharply criticizes the maneuver, saying, "Attaching a bad bill to a vital one is a sneaking business, making it nearly impossible for thoughtful members of Congress to vote against it." The legislation does little to keep Americans safe; nothing in the bill involves major reform to immigration policies. Instead it's a poorly conceived, hasty piece of legislation which targets asylum seekers, puts a huge burden on states to clean up a federal mess and grants overreaching powers to the Department of Homeland Security.
SHIFTING THE BURDEN OF PROOF: Thanks to the Real ID Act, it will become more difficult for people persecuted for their religious beliefs to receive asylum in the United States. The legislation shifts the burden of proof of persecution onto the shoulders of applicants. For example, it requires documented evidence of torture, something "people on the run rarely have." (As the ACLU put it, that's like asking "asylum seekers to prove what amounts to … a note from their persecutor.") As a result, many refugees tortured, raped and brutalized on the basis of their race, national origin or political opinions would be turned away.
NOT SAFER: Proponents of the bill, namely Rep. James Sensenbrenner(R-WI) claim the clampdown on asylum seekers is necessary "to prevent another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel." Not so fast; current law already bars anyone who poses a security risk from being granted asylum.
YOU THOUGHT THE DMV WAS FUN BEFORE: Don't like the long lines at your local Department of Motor Vehicles? Well, bring something to read because, thanks to Real ID, the lines at DMV are about to get a whole lot longer. Under the new legislation, everyone applying for a drivers' license will be required to show birth certificates, a photo ID, proof of their Social Security number and various other documents to prove name and address. Then, in a new logistical nightmare, DMV employees must verify each document by whichever agency issued it. ("How, precisely," writes the Rocky Mountain News, "is a motor-vehicle clerk in Denver supposed to verify a Chinese or Iraqi birth certificate?") The Washington Post sums up the problem, saying, "This will turn motor vehicle departments across the country into de facto enforcers of immigration law, add a huge bureaucratic burden and force many states to set up dual systems – in effect making states pay for federal policy failure." And it's not cheap. According to Cheye Calvo of the National Conference of State Legislators, it will cost states between $500 and $700 million to meet these new demands.
NOT SAFER: Jeff Lungren, spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, said Real ID was "aimed at preventing another 9/11-type of attack by targeting terrorist travel." As proof, he charged 18 of the 9/11 hijackers used state-issued IDs and drivers' licenses to board the plane. Actually, all of the 9/11 hijackers had viable passports and visas (some gained using fraudulent documents) which allowed them to get licenses.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, ABOVE THE LAW: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is on the brink of becoming the most powerful man in the country. This new bill gives him the authority to bypass Congress and the courts to waive any law – federal, state or local – that he wants while he's building a fence along U.S. borders. And there's no recourse; the legislation "shields the waiver decisions from court scrutiny" and also "strips courts of any power to order remedies for anyone harmed by the consequences of such decisions." This means child labor laws, civil rights laws and minimum wage requirements are all at risk. (For example, Chertoff could "give no-bid contracts for border construction to private companies and then shield those contractors from all employment discrimination and workplace safety laws.") It also exempts the DHS from all environmental laws, putting thousands of acres of national parks, forests and wildlife refuges at risk of serious damage.
NOT SAFER: Few believe the fence will do much to limit the number of undocumented immigrants into the United States. Border security does need to be strengthened. However, it would make more sense to fully fund and enforce existing border security measures instead of sneaking half-measures through Congress with no debate. Border patrols are still underfunded and undermanned. Terror watch lists still aren't reliable and the consolidated terror list the DHS was supposed to finish by last December still doesn't exist. And last year, border agents admitted that due to a lack of resources, "they've been forced to release most illegal immigrants back onto American streets within hours of catching them — even some who are criminals or from countries known to produce terrorists."