Friday, February 23, 2007

Charging Ahead Blind and Scared on REAL ID--Pt. 1

I had hoped to catch what was rumored to be one of the final hearings on SB505, the Measure 37 timeout bill, on the Oregon Channel tonight, but it had already ended and the Senate Business, Transportation and Workforce Development Committee meeting was on. There's all kinds of junk that committee sees, but today's session featured a hearing on SB 424, the bill ostensibly designed to comply with the federal REAL ID Act, a rider on military spending bill passed in the last session and purportedly intended to advance national security by tightening identification processes.

Other than changing some visa requirements and paving the way for physical structures to be erected at US borders (which has nothing to do with ID, does it?), the primary tool of the Act was to synthesize individual state driver and ID cards as the de facto token of citizenship. You could use it for planes, at banks, to enter federal buildings, etc. That way, a national ID card wouldn't be needed; your existing driver's license would already suffice. Citizens of states that do not comply are supposedly to lose the ability to use the ID to get on planes and whatnot, which if you ask me is pretty fucked up. You go ahead and try everyone at PDC their license is no longer "secure," Miss Counter Agent.

I shouldn't say de facto, more like de juris--the Trojan horse in the ID requirement was that all states now had to affirmatively check and verify "legal presence," using citizenship documents and Social Security verification in order to clear people for receiving licenses and personal IDs. Obviously this has two pretty direct outcomes: the state department of transportation will become a de facto (used it right that time) agent of the Department of Homeland Security by being the first line of citizenship defense, as it were; and undocumented people in this country will simply begin driving unlicensed and uninsured.

Aside from the theory that undocumented people are registering and voting in mass displays of fraudulence, the belief that the southern invasion can be stemmed by refusing them driver's licenses is a favorite of the anti-immigrant groups. And it's exactly the Mexicans we're talking about; despite the facade of national security concerns, groups like VDare and Oregonians for Immigration Reform never seem troubled to mention undocumented Canadians, Chinese, Russian, Somali, Japanese, Vietnamese--just the Mexicans. Maybe they have it in for the Salvadorans too, I can't say.

It's not exactly clear what they think the Act would result in--would people really leave the country if their driver's license got taken? And those are the ones who even come in to get a license in the first place! What impact on undocumented immigration are we expecting when the DMV starts asking for your papers? How about the impact on the privacy and civil rights of regular old US citizens? And for heaven's sake, how is it better that all these thousands of people are here, and now they are driving cars they're not even licensed to drive, never having been even tested for the ability to read signs for instance? What does that improve?

Like I said, it's red meat for the nativistic crowd, so Linda Flores and Kim Thatcher rolled out a slate of paranoid, fascist-leaning bills earlier this month in order to please, among them the state's compliance version of the Act. They introduced the bill quickly before jetting off to other meetings, but gave it the sell. Flores admitted that REAL ID is not perfect, no one said it was, and should be made at the federal level, urging the legislature to "try to work with our federal partners." Rep. Thatcher deduced that because we have standards for driving, you can have that privilege taken away. The Legislature supported SB640 about identity theft last session, she said, and REAL ID is a logical followup. "We want Oregon driver's licenses to be accepted as a gateway ID."

That's an absurd argument. The reason they are doing this is NOT to uphold standards for driving, as if it's about passing a vision test. And how is citizenship related to fitness for operating a vehicle? And if there really is a logical link between identity theft and making BMV the Border Patrol, send it on a napkin to our offices.

The one thing proponents don't mention is that when it comes to standards, there aren't any yet. This was of significant concern to both witnesses from BMV, but also members of the committee. How can we start compliance with standards that aren't even finalized at the federal level? They're already a year behind, and while the set of standards has apparently been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review, there's no date set for finalization. Will the Legislature have to revist all of this next year (or the year after that)? If so, why mess with it now? I'll tell you why--because this isn't about compliance with federal security rules for national security's about stemming the brown tide ASAP, or in this case exhibiting to your constituents that it's what you'd like to see happen.

You can build a pretty good argument against this bill just by refuting the claimed benefits of proponents, but there are also some big negatives to implementation that other states are beginning to recognize. Last month Maine became what I believe is the first state to formally reject federal requirements. Their reasons were the high cost (estimated at $185mil over five years), high inconvenience (the bill would force every resident to visit DMV with hard copies of their paperwork), and questionable need for the program.

If Maine's response was a shot across REAL ID's bow, then what Montana is currently working through its legislature is a torpedo right to the engine room:
WHEREAS, some of the intended privacy requirements of the REAL ID Act, such as the use of common machine-readable technology and state maintenance of a database that can be shared with the United States and agencies of other states, may actually make it more likely that a federally required driver's license or state identification card, or the information about the bearer on which the license or card is based, will be stolen, sold, or otherwise used for purposes that were never intended or that are criminally related than if the REAL ID Act had not been enacted; and

WHEREAS, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Governors' Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures have estimated, in an impact analysis dated September 2006, that the cost to the states to implement the REAL ID Act will be more than $11 billion over 5 years, and the Motor Vehicle Division of the Montana Department of Justice has estimated that the implementation of the REAL ID Act will cost Montana $2,660,000 to fully implement the Act, none of which costs are or will be paid for by the federal government; and

WHEREAS, the regulations that are to be adopted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to implement the requirements of the REAL ID Act have yet to be adopted and, in reality, will probably not become effective until the spring of 2007, effectively giving the states only 1 year in which to become familiar with the implementing regulations and comply with those regulations and the requirements of the REAL ID Act; and

WHEREAS, the mandate to the states, through federal legislation that provides no funding for its requirements, to issue what is, in effect, a national identification card appears to be an attempt to "commandeer" the political machinery of the states and to require them to be agents of the federal government, in violation of the principles of federalism contained in the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as construed by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. United States, 488 U.S. 1041 (1992), United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), and Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997); and

THEREFORE, the purpose of the Legislature in enacting [this act] is to refuse to implement the REAL ID Act and thereby protest the treatment by Congress and the President of the states as agents of the federal government and, by that protest, lead other state legislatures and Governors to reject the treatment by the federal government of the 50 states by the enactment of the REAL ID Act.


NEW SECTION. Section 1. Legislative finding and direction to state agency not to implement REAL ID Act. (1) The legislature finds that the enactment into law by the U.S. congress of the REAL ID Act of 2005, as part of Public Law 109-13, is inimical to the security and well-being of the people of Montana, will cause unneeded expense and inconvenience to those people, and was adopted by the U.S. congress in violation of the principles of federalism contained in the 10th amendment to the U.S. constitution.

(2) The state of Montana will not participate in the implementation of the REAL ID Act of 2005. The department, including the motor vehicle division of the department, is directed not to implement the provisions of the REAL ID Act of 2005 and to report to the governor any attempt by agencies or agents of the U.S. department of homeland security to secure the implementation of the REAL ID Act of 2005 through the operations of that division and department. [emphs me]
Zoinks! Take that, Senator Sensenbrenner! But sadly of course, the reality is that backers in Congress aren't likely to hear. Like Lamar Smith of Texas, they've got terra on the brain:
"Real ID is needed to protect the American people from terrorists who use drivers licenses to board planes, get jobs and move around the country as the 9/11 terrorists did," Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. "It makes sense to have drivers licenses that ensure a person is who they say they are. It makes the country safer and protects the American people from terrorists who would use the most common form of ID as cover."
Yeah, the only thing that made Mohammad Atta's job possible was his driver's license. :rolleyes: For a local echo of this absurdist line of reasoning, tune in for Part Two, in which I introduce the practices and testimony of Ruth Bendl: Hysterical Patriot.

Update, 2/24, 4:30 PM--
Today's News-Register shows that the debate is not quite as black and white as I've made it out to be, politically speaking. While the House version is being pushed by reliable Republican friends of the anti-immigration crowd, the Senate bill is sponsored by Democrat Rick Metsger. And among listed skeptics of the bill are Republican Larry George, who is nobody's liberal. I don't agree with Metsger's analysis at all, and I think it's unfortunate that he doesn't see the rejection by other states as a clue to the problematic nature of the bill.