It soon could be a lot more complicated for Americans to get driver's licenses. Congress is on the verge of passing a plan that could discourage illegal immigration by requiring applicants for state-issued driver's licenses - roughly 70 million people a year - to produce four types of identification at motor vehicle offices.
Most who apply for new licenses - and presumably, those seeking renewals - would have to prove that they are in the USA legally, document their Social Security number and home address, and show a photo ID. Motor vehicle department employees then would have to verify the documents with federal databases, a potentially lengthy process that could mean an end to same-day license renewals
States now typically require new drivers to produce proof of age and one or two other forms of ID, usually including a photo. Less is required of those renewing licenses; Maryland and a few other states allow renewals by mail. That could change under the Real ID Act, which along with extra security at airports and workplaces could represent the most significant differences in daily lives to stem from post-9/11 security concerns.
The act is likely to be passed by the House today and the Senate next week as an attachment to an $81 million emergency spending bill for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If states did not comply within three years, their driver's licenses could not be used as ID to board a plane or to enter certain federal buildings.
President Bush has expressed support for the act, which has created an uproar among state officials and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that it would cost states more than $500 million. "The number of documents is staggering," says the conference's Cheye Calvo. "You're not going to get your license in one day anymore. Over-the-counter driver's licenses will no longer exist."
The ACLU says the act threatens' Americans' privacy by creating links between databases that could be used to make licenses into de facto national ID cards that could be used to track residents' activities.
The Congressional Budget Office says it would cost states $100 million over five years. The act's author, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says, "If somebody has to stand in line a few minutes more (for a license), that's a small price to pay than having thousands or tens of thousands of people die in a terrorist attack."