New Mexico's Governor, Susana Martinez (R), wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last week asking for assurance that implementation of our national ID law, the REAL ID Act, will not be pushed back again beyond the upcoming January 15, 2013 deadline. Here's your answer, Governor Martinez.
Congress passed REAL ID in 2005 as an attachment to a military spending bill. The law never had a hearing in the House or Senate.
In 2006, the policy of having a national ID implemented by states was beginning to sink in, and in April of that year, Representative Neal Kurk, a Republican from Weare, New Hampshire, spoke eloquently against REAL ID, saying:
I don't believe that the people of New Hampshire elected us to help the federal government create a national identification card. We care more for our liberties than to meekly hand over to the federal government the potential to enumerate, track, identify, and eventually control.
Thus began the "REAL ID Rebellion."
It wasn't the U.S. Congress that had the first hearing on REAL ID. It was the New Mexico legislature in September 2006.
A year and a half after the law passed, New Mexico legislators heard about the costs and consequences of having a national ID. The Wall Street Journal dubbed the federal policy "Real Bad ID" the next month.
In 2007, states across the country started passing legislation barring themselves from complying with REAL ID and denouncing the law. By 2009, half the states in the country would say "NO" to REAL ID.
The law had a three-year implementation schedule, meaning states were supposed to start issuing national IDs in March 2008. But about a year before the deadline, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced in conjunction with the release of draft implementation rules that the Department would grant extensions to all States requesting them. The final deadline for compliance was now going to be December 31, 2009.
The DHS didn't come out with standards for REAL ID until January 2008, just months from the original May 2008 statutory deadline. DHS pushed the deadline for extension requests, which hadn't come in, to March 31, 2008. The December 31, 2009 deadline that DHS had earlier announced became an "initial" deadline, with a later "real" deadline of October 11, 2009 for states that achieved "certain milestones."
When the March 31, 2008 deadline for extension requests came, the states were not forthcoming with them. Montana notified the DHS that was not going to comply with the REAL ID Act, ever. The DHS saw the writing on the wall and treated that notification as a request for an extension---and granted it.
The Missoulian reported "Montana Wins REAL ID Standoff." New Hampshire won, too. And so did South Carolina.
By September 2009, several states were declining to ask for a second extension (with a showing of material compliance), so DHS kicked the deadline for extension requests down to December 2009. And in December 2009, with states still refusing compliance with REAL ID, the DHS stayed the compliance deadline "until further notice."
In March of 2011, the DHS quietly extended the deadline again, this time to the current date of January 2013.
You can see the writing on the wall, Governor Martinez. The states are not going to implement REAL ID---not the ones that respect their place in our constitutional system, anyway. Accordingly, the DHS will---as it must---extend the deadline for REAL ID once again, as Congress continues its failure to do away with the moribund national ID.
Governor Martinez may see this as a way to score some points---a two-fer even. She can suggest that DHS Secretary is soft on security and she can use REAL ID in her push to restrict access to drivers' licenses in her state.
But when Janet Napolitano extends the REAL ID deadline, she'll be just as soft on security as her predecessor Michael Chertoff was. New Mexico is one of the few states that still uses drivers' licenses to administer driving and doesn't condition licensing on proving one's citizenship or immigration status. If Governor Martinez wants to change that, investing New Mexicans in the national ID system as a byproduct of Congress' failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, that's between her and her constituents.