Even before the May 1 march that mobilized thousands to march in support of immigrant rights, a spectrum of Rhode Islanders have been strategizing about how to respond to a piece of federal legislation that passed last year without Congressional debate or public hearings.
The controversial Real ID Act became law in May 2005, pushed as a response to how some of the 9/11 hijackers possessed drivers’ licenses, and tacked onto an emergency-spending bill for US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It requires states to ask people applying for or renewing a driver’s license to provide documents proving their citizenship or legal immigration status, and this information must be stored in a database accessible by other states. If states do not comply by 2008, their licenses will not be recognized for federal purposes, like boarding planes or opening bank accounts.
In April, criticism about privacy and cost concerns, and the advent of a national identity card made national headlines again when New Hampshire nearly opted out of Real ID. The American Civil Liberties Union obtained documents showing that the Rhode Island DMV, for instance, expects the cost of updating its computers to be more than $20 million. According to the ACLU’swww.realnightmare.org, a number of other states would also face substantial implementation costs.
Real ID’s immigration-related provisions include language making it easier to construct more border fences and to tighten asylum and deportation laws. The new license standards will also pose challenges for undocumented immigrants trying to get to work or to drive their children to school. (In Rhode Island, the ACLU has had a lawsuit pending against the DMV since last year, because it began refusing drivers’ licenses to people without Social Security numbers. The lawsuit rests on the DMV’s alleged noncompliance with an act requiring public comment before making changes.)
Gladys Gould, a labor organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says, “While the fight for comprehensive immigration reform has crowded the streets of the nation, we must not forget that the Real ID has passed and that the clock is ticking until the 2008 implementation deadline.”
Gould is among those who have been meeting since 2005 to strategize around Real ID’s implementation in Rhode Island. Because of other anti-immigrant legislation, she says, “We didn’t even get to educate people about Real ID.” With the upsurge in the immigrant rights’ movement, Gould adds, “We have the urgency to fight. This is the time now.”