Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued regulations to tighten national standards for driver's licenses, regulations the states need before implementing the program. It's about time. When Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which included the driver's license provisions, the law mandated that the program be in place by May 2008four months from now.
That deadline is moot by Homeland Security's foot-dragging. So, while the regulations will be implemented in steps, Homeland Security extended its deadline to fully execute the program until 2014six more years. This is unacceptable and dangerous.
The REAL ID Act was a direct result of complying with one of the 9/11 Commission's core recommendations. As noted by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff when he announced the license regulations: "Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 driver's licenses and IDs, and used 364 aliases. REAL ID will give law enforcement and security officials a powerful advantage against falsified documents."
When it's implemented. In the meantime, terrorists can just go about their business as if 9/11 never happened and heightened security is not on Americans' minds. Dragging it out until 13 years after the 9/11 attacks is unacceptable.
However, no one should be surprised. Homeland Security foot-dragging is an art form. In 2004, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which included the requirement that the secretary of Homeland Security propose minimum standards for identification documents to be used by airline passengers. We're still waiting. And while we do, anyone with a consular identification card can board an airplane.
Consular cards are issued by foreign governments to their nationals in the United States. There is no attempt to determine whether the person obtaining the card is legally in the United States and, in fact, the only people who need these cards are illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists. No one denies this fact.
In testimony before a congressional committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the FBI had identified a route through Brazil that illegal immigrants from al-Qaida nations use to obtain false identitiesincluding assuming Hispanic surnamesbefore heading for Mexico and the U.S. border. While no one in the intelligence community will say publicly whether or not any terrorists have been captured along our southern border, all warn it is a serious loophole in our Homeland Security net.
It is clear terrorists have the means and the motive to come here, obtain a consular card and use it to kill Americans.
Consular cards are easily obtained with no proof of true identity and are easily forged. Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, made that point when she presented consular cards to members of the House Homeland Security Committee with their names, addresses and photos.
Thankfully, consular cards will not be sufficient to obtain a driver's license under the REAL ID Act. Specifically, state driver's licenses must incorporate information and security features into each card. Proof of identity and U.S. citizenship or legal residence must be provided by applicants. The documents used to prove identity and U.S. citizenship or legal residence must be verified, and security standards for the offices that issue licenses and identification cards must be in place. If those criteria are not met, the licenses would not be accepted to enter federal facilities, nuclear facilities or to board an airplane.
REAL ID regulations will make America much safer by taking from terrorists a key piece of their arsenalthe ability to move freely and anonymously about the United States.
When it's implemented.
In the meantime, we don't have to wait until REAL ID is in place to close other security loopholes. With that in mind, I've once again asked Secretary Chertoff to eliminate consular cards from the list of acceptable forms of identification used to board airplanes. It's just common sense, and the time is now.