State lawmakers are trying to balance new federal regulations on ID cards with Washington’s existing laws that allow undocumented immigrants to access driver’s licenses.
Currently, applicants don’t have to disclose their U.S. citizenship or residency status when applying for a driver’s license or identification card in Washington state.
Under a proposal being considered in the state legislature, the Washington Department of Licensing would keep questions of citizenship optional for standard IDs.
The Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID program requires states to ask for proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency for state-issued identification that would be acceptable for entry into federal buildings. By next year, such IDs could be the only state-issued identification that the Transportation Security Administration accepts for boarding commercial aircraft.
Under Washington state’s proposed plan, U.S. citizens who live in this state would have the option to ask for an enhanced license or identification card compliant with the Department of Homeland Security’s program.
But that type of license would not be a requirement, and those who opt out will get a standard license or identification card. Those cards could not be used as federal identification. The proposal also bars people who don’t live in the state from getting a Washington license.
“Our plan maintains the access to driver’s licenses and identification cards to all eligible persons in the state,” Tony Sermonti, Department of Licensing legislative liaison, told state senators this week.
The proposal expands the state’s enhanced license and identification card system. Permanent residents who are not U.S. citizens cannot get an enhanced license, but standard driver’s licenses and identification cards would still be available to them, the Department of Licensing told the Globalist.
Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require proof of U.S. residency or citizenship for standard driver’s licenses and state identification cards. California and seven other states issue limited licenses that show they are not valid for federal purposes to people who cannot prove their U.S. resident status, according to the National Immigration Law Center. Other states do not issue licenses to people without proof of U.S. citizenship or resident status.
The National Immigration Law Center says that barring undocumented immigrants from getting licensed reduces road safety and makes law enforcement more difficult. The center also says that laws requiring proof of citizenship or legal residency have prevented some U.S. citizens from getting licenses because many states require more than just a passport.
Under the Washington Department of Licensing’s plan, people who do not provide residency information would have wording similar to “not valid for federal purposes” stamped on the front of their cards, which is required by federal law. Sermonti told lawmakers at a work session this week the DOL will work on that phrasing.
Homeland Security has been phasing in those requirements for entry to federal buildings. The Transportation Security Administration plans to use the REAL ID cards as the only state-issued identification acceptable for commercial air travel, possibly as soon as next year.
People who do not have REAL ID cards would be able to use documents such as a passport or a passport card for those purposes, according to the Homeland Security.
Washington has been one of four states on the Canadian border to offer enhanced driver’s licenses or identification cards. These cards can be used for crossing international borders in the Western Hemisphere. The cards also allow border patrol agents to pull up information about the holder, through a radio frequency identification system.
While permanent residents who are not U.S. citizens will not be eligible for Washington’s enhanced licenses, they can use federal residency documentation or their passports in situations that would require a federal identification, said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield.
The enhanced licenses and ID cards also will cost an additional $18 over the standard fees, but neither the standard nor enhanced ID will be considered the “default” card in the state, Benfield told the Globalist.
“It’s going to be their choice,” Benfield said.
The Department of Licensing also would need additional funding to expand the enhanced license system, because enhanced licensing has additional steps and is not available at every local DOL office, Benfield said.
Currently, 423,000 people have enhanced driver’s licenses out of approximately 6.5 million driver license in the state — about 6.5 percent, Benfield said, though the DOL expects those numbers to rise as the change in airport security comes on-line.
Washington was granted an extension until Oct. 10 to comply with Homeland Security’s REAL ID program because of the proposed plan, according to the Associated Press. More than 20 states have an extension on implementing the REAL ID law, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2007, the Washington state legislature passed a bill opposing the federal REAL ID mandates.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. California issues driver’s licenses to non-citizens, but the license indicates that it is not valid for federal purposes.