For recent immigrants, the Real ID Act presents enormous obstacles. To meet the aforementioned documentation requirements, states will not be permitted to accept any foreign document other than a passport. If a legal immigrant doesn't have a birth certificate, for example, it is entirely unclear what, if anything, he or she can do meet the documentation requirements for a driver's license.

Immigration rights groups, like Human Rights First and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), have expressed concern about the stringency and simultaneous ambiguity of the Real ID Act's requirements for drivers' licenses.

"We think that they are really problematic requirements, and that they are a substantial change," said Joan Friedland, immigration policy attorney at the NILC. "To prove state residency, you'll use utility bills, bank statements -- how do you get those verified by the gas company and the bank? The states are not equipped to do that kind of verification, and the agencies they are going to get it from are not equipped either."

Equal Opportunity Obstacles

The Real ID Act is going to create obstacles that all U.S. residents must overcome.

"You're not going to be able to do online [driver's license] renewal anymore because you have to present documents," Friedland predicted. "A lot of states have set up online renewal. If they have to build back in not only what they had before, but more to handle the new requirements, what's going to happen with that?"

Friedland also observed that the DHS has no experience whatsoever with issuing drivers' licenses, which leads one to wonder just how efficient this process will be. Interestingly, Indiana pulled the plug on its popular online driver's license renewal system when its Legislature passed a bill requiring residents to renew their drivers' licenses in person.

"Through legislative mandate, we took down that [online renewal] option July 1, 2005," said Greg Cook, communications director of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. "There were some concerns about meeting the requirements of the Real ID Act. Due to those issues, that particular feature was eliminated. Obviously our intention is to meet any requirement related to the Real ID Act as we learn more about it and go forward."

For police officers, judges and others in sensitive positions, the Real ID Act is cause for concern. The act appears to threaten a protection most states have offered for many years: allowing these individuals to remove permanent addresses from their drivers' licenses. According to the text of the Real ID Act, no exception is made for any citizen and the permanent address must appear. This is not only a problem for some government employees, it is a case of federal law superseding state law.

"There are things that I think they just didn't think about," said Schwartz. "I don't think anyone would contemplate a security bill that hurts law enforcement -- that hurts undercover cops. This bill just says permanent address -- period. There's no negotiated rulemaking. So you just have to assume it's overriding all those states that have those laws."

Despite concern about the Real ID Act's ambiguity, there is one aspect that virtually everyone agrees on -- cost. Almost everyone familiar with the act believes it will be expensive to implement. The disagreements arise when trying to determine who -- the state or federal government -- will be footing the majority of the bill.

In the end, of course, taxpayers will most likely bear the burden.

"I think most of the uproar comes from the lack of funding for this piece of legislation," said King. "Here we have a piece of legislation that is moving driver-licensing practices into the 21st century, but there is no 21st-century funding to go with it."

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.