Real ID

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Congress is threatening to take away drivers licenses and other important rights from immigrants. This past February 10, the REAL ID Act (H.R. 418) passed in the House by a 261-161 vote. It may be discussed in the Senate in early March. The REAL ID Act does nothing to strengthen national security or address the problems with the broken immigration system. America urgently needs legislation supporting comprehensive immigration reform and not another measure to drive immigrants deeper into the shadows of society. Broadly, the REAL ID Act puts greater restrictions on immigrant access to drivers’ licenses, makes it more difficult for those fleeing persecution to attain asylum, and waives potential environmental concerns in constructing a fence to close a 3-mile gap along the US-Mexico border. The bill also severely curtails the rights of immigrants to have a fair trial and expands the definition of “terrorism” to include actions normally protected by the first amendment.

Of particular concern to the Korean American community, the Real ID Act drivers’ license provisions would create the following 3-tiered system for drivers’ licenses:

1. States will be prohibited from issuing drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants will be forced to drive to work and school without licenses, and therefore auto insurance, making the roads unsafe for everyone. Most of these undocumented immigrants, numbering one million Asian Pacific Americans and 1 out of 5 Korean Americans, are long-term residents and integral part of our communities, our economy and our nation. They live, work and study in America and should not be deprived of the basic right to drive, work and contribute to society.

2. All drivers’ license applicants will undergo unnecessarily burdensome proof of identity standards.

Even citizens will be impacted by this provision. There will be long delays as the Department of Homeland Security will have to verify the citizenship of each license applicant. Moreover, naturalized citizens who do not have U.S. passports or access to their naturalization certificates may have difficulties getting their licenses because they cannot prove that they are U.S. citizens.

3. Temporary licenses, expiring according to the validity period of one’s visa, will be issued to certain legal non-immigrants.

Legal non-immigrants who are in the U.S. to work or study will be forced to carry drivers’ licenses or IDs that single them out from the general population. Furthermore, they will likely have tremendous difficulties getting or renewing their licenses or IDs, as many employees of state Departments of Motor Vehicles will not understand the complexities of immigration law. Communities are also concerned that these provisions are likely to lead to discrimination or racial profiling of those who may look “foreign.”

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