By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Congress is poised to pass a law that would make
sweeping changes to the nation's system for issuing driver's licenses
by imposing stringent requirements on states to verify the
authenticity of birth certificates, Social Security cards, legal
residency visas, and bank and utility records used to obtain a
House Republicans attached the bill to a must-pass supplemental
spending package for troops in Iraq without first putting it through
the usual legislative scrutiny of hearings and debate. Should it
emerge intact from House-Senate negotiations over the spending
package, it could be law next month.
Touted as an antiterrorism measure, the "Real ID Act" would also
overturn laws in nine states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain
driver's licenses. If a state does not comply with any provision of
the law, its residents would no longer be able to use their driver's
licenses for federal identification purposes, such as for boarding a
The law, some say, would effectively turn the new driver's license
into a national identification card. Its chief champion, House
Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, says
the measure would help prevent terrorists from fraudulently gaining
official documents that would allow them to enter the country and move
Another set of provisions would significantly raise the standard of
proof that asylum applicants must meet when claiming that they have
been persecuted on ethnic, religious, or political grounds. It would
also grant greater discretion to Homeland Security officials to reject
asylum seekers and curtail the ability of appeals courts to issue
stays of deportation orders and review rejected cases.
Terrorists have "used almost every conceivable means of entering the
country," Sensenbrenner said in a statement provided by an aide.
"They have come as students, tourists, and business visitors. They
have also been [legal permanent residents] and naturalized US
citizens. They have snuck across the border illegally, arrived as
stowaways on ships, used false passports, and have been granted
amnesty. Terrorists have even used America's humanitarian tradition
of welcoming those seeking asylum. We must plug these gaps."
But many critics of the Real ID Act say that it goes too far and that
its language is riddled with problems that might have been corrected
through the normal legislative review process.