While we have all been distracted by Donald Trump’s increasingly aggressive verbal attacks on immigrants and undocumented people over the past three years, a more subtle but arguably more effective attack has slowly been enacted across America. The REAL ID act was passed in 2005, postponed from enforcement until 2011, and is currently going into effect in California. Among other things, it requires all newly issued driver’s licenses to have an icon in the top corner indicating if the person is a citizen. Some states will only have an icon if you are a citizen, but some states, including California, will actually print the words “federal limits apply” if you are not a citizen. Starting October 1, 2020, anyone who wants to fly domestically in the U.S. will have to present REAL ID compliant documents, either a valid REAL ID or a U.S. Passport. These regulations were enacted to protect our nation’s security, but in reality they are going to encourage biased treatment and ostracize those who aren’t full American citizens, and therefore should be retracted.
Any time a law enforcement officer or even a store clerk asks to see a form of identification, they are looking for information about you, like your name, your signature, and your age. But with a REAL ID, the first personal information that person will notice will be if you are a citizen or not. This automatically will activate bias, whether intentional or unconscious. It should not matter if you are a citizen or not when you are getting pulled over for speeding, but now that police officer will have specific information about you and may behave differently. This is absolutely unacceptable, because it will encourage people to use this knowledge to impact their opinions or actions.
There will also be a significant amount of people who will not be allowed to get a REAL ID, if they are unable to prove their legal status, or do not have a social security number. This could restrict them from getting insurance or a job, and therefore impact their lives in a devastating way.
Although this has been slowly going into effect for almost a decade, many people do not understand the full impacts and subtle ways REAL ID will change their day to day lives. Barack Obama was flatly opposed to REAL ID, but implementation was already in process when he was in office. REAL ID doesn’t only apply to driver’s licenses and domestic flights, it also impacts asylum seekers, by instating stricter rules surrounding those seeking asylum. According to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, this will prevent many asylum seekers from gaining the safe haven they deserve. Specifically, it allows judges to demand documentation and evidence from asylum seekers, even if the judge knows that that evidence will be impossible to procure. Additionally, REAL IDs will also be required to enter any federal building or facility, which means that if you do not have one, you will not be allowed to take advantage of your Constitutional right to assembly and petition of the government.
Finally, what could be argued as the largest issue with REAL ID is that there have been no restrictions put into place that could prevent REAL IDs from being required to vote, get insurance, open a bank account, or any other actions that take place in the public or private sector. This means that at any point in the future, REAL IDs, and the bias that inherently accompanies them, could be required to be used to simply go about your day to day life. This is a violation of our rights and privacy, and should not be allowed to slowly go into effect without any attention.