Immigrant advocates raise concern over Real ID compliance

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 3, 2015…..The interim registrar of motor vehicles told lawmakers on Thursday that a bill designed to bring Massachusetts into compliance with the federal Real ID Act would not prevent anyone from obtaining a license, but advocates for the immigrant community disagreed.

In October, Gov. Charlie Baker filed a bill (H 3814) to bring the Bay State into compliance with the Real ID Act, a post-2001 anti-terrorism effort intend by Congress to improve national security.

Under the federal law, “Real IDs” will be required to board a commercial airline without a passport or enter a federal building or federally-restricted areas, like power plants.

The Real ID will not be a separate card all together, but rather an enhanced version of a Massachusetts driver’s license recognized by the federal government as an acceptable form of identification. Applicants will have to visit the Registry of Motor Vehicles and provide proof of identity paperwork, and the new license will include a yellow circle with a white star inside, signifying that it is a Real ID.

“Enactment does not mean we need to all rush to the registry tomorrow. Enactment ensures the RMV moves forward with the required technical upgrade required for full compliance in an efficient, steadfast manner,” Interim Registrar of Motor Vehicles Erin Deveney told the Joint Committee on Transportation. “We anticipate a modernization program to span the next 18 months with Real ID issuance beginning at the end of that process.”

The governor’s bill would allow the registry to continue to issue non-Real ID compliant Massachusetts licenses to drivers who choose to renew their existing license and not appear in person to obtain a Real ID from the state, but those IDs after 2020 would no longer be recognized for air travel.

The Real ID Act calls on states to verify the legal status of applicants for identification cards and strengthen security standards, which advocates said could prevent some legal immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses.

The governor’s bill includes a provision that forbids issuance of any type of license to anyone who does not have legal status — as defined by the federal government — in the country. The federal definition of legal status, advocates said, is far too strict and would not cover some legal immigrants.

“Our problem is that the governor’s bill goes beyond Real ID by needlessly inserting this restrictive federal ‘lawful status’ definition into the provision for ordinary driver’s licenses,” Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said. “Thus preventing many lawfully presents immigrants from obtaining any type of driver’s license or registration in our state, including people who are currently driving with licenses.”

Deirdre McCann, an Irish immigrant who works as an outreach coordinator for the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, said many of her agency’s clients — including those who have asylum or refugee status — would be affected by the change in the law.

“These immigrants have social security numbers, they are eligible for employment authorization documents, they are currently entitled to a Massachusetts ID or a license and many of these immigrants have jobs, have children and are taxpayers,” McCann said. “They are just like any other Massachusetts resident and they should be allowed to have a driver’s license.”

While the new IDs will be valid for five years just like current driver’s licenses, Baker’s bill gives the registry the authority to issue cards valid for shorter durations to those, such as international students, who may have visas or work permits to be in the country legally for a shorter period of time.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security granted Massachusetts a second one-year extension to become compliant with the federal law.

“This means our current license and ID card holders will be able to access restricted federal facilities with the card in their wallet through October of 2016,” Deveney said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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