Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Real ID Act passes, punishing immigrants needlessly

On May 10th the Senate joined the House in passing an emergency spending bill that includes buried in the fine print provisions the originally came from a proposed law called the Real ID Act. The proposals were never debated on the floor of the House or Senate and were not the subject of thoughtful hearings. But they are going to become law anyway.

The Real ID Act will weaken the security of our country and its inhabitants. It will probably drive millions of people who drive cars into the awful choice of driving without a license (and therefore also probably without car insurance) or not driving at all. There is no reason to impose this risk on people in America. Supposedly, doing so will prevent potential terrorists from boarding planes. But nothing prevents anybody from boarding a plane with a non-US passport, so anybody can still board a plane even without a driver's license.

The Real ID Act also shamefully cuts back on the historic writ of habeas corpus for the first time since The Civil War.

It also includes extremely confusing provisions that will hurt an innocent immigrant's ability to point out gross errors by the immigration authorities. Depending on how courts try to decipher the confusing language, some immigrants will either face a huge headache to get into court or might even be completely blocked from correcting an obvious mistake.

It also will add a very confusing additional requirement for asylum seekers. Proponents of the change say it will not change anything in the law. But if that was the case, why would they enact it? There's a real danger that it will change the law and handcuff judges from granting asylum to immigrants who clearly deserve it.

Of course, we can't say today how bad all the changes will turn out. But even if somehow the courts rule that the Real ID Act provisions do not overturn certain basic principles, it causes needless anxiety, risk, and a waste of taxpayers' time and money for no good reason other than to help certain Congressmen pitch for more votes in their re-election campaigns.


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