The controversial legislation,
which supporters say is needed to protect the nation
from illegal immigrants, may be be passed in conference
as early as Friday. Both chambers of Congress have already
passed their versions of the bill; the Senate version
does not contain REAL ID but it is expected to be added
during negotiations. Senate Democrats say they are being
kept out of discussions in much the same way that the
House Democrats were barred from negotiations in late
Late last year, the Republican House leadership snubbed
the White House by not allowing the Intelligence Reform
Bill to go to a floor vote. The House version of REAL
ID (HR 418), championed by House Judiciary Committee
Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), was to be attached
to the Intel bill.
As RAW STORY reported
in February, some members of the Republican caucus were
split on many of 418’s controversial provisions.
In an effort to soothe Republican dissent, Sensenbrenner
held a series of secretive closed door meetings, along
with a leading conservative Republican member with ties
to Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, in order to convince
the members of his delegation to support the bill by
suggesting that the far Christian right would “rain
down fire and brimstone.”
Sensenbrenner is said to have cut a deal; the bill
would be attached as a rider to another bill in 2005.
He then pulled it from the Intel bill, which then passed
late last year.
REAL ID was then attached to the Iraq and Afghan military
appropriations bill, which also includes money for tsunami
aid. The Senate version of the appropriations bill did
not include REAL ID, but Republicans are re-adding it
Many see use of the must-pass appropriations bill as
a carrier for REAL ID to be a manipulation of the legislative
process to pass a measure that wouldn’t be approved
on its merits alone.
“An emergency appropriations bill to fund troops
in the field and to aid victims of a major natural disaster
should not be loaded up with a series of provisions
that will lead to the creation of a national identification
card,” ACLU attorney Tim Sparapani said.
Others, including the Senate Democratic leadership,
take issue with the Republicans’ methodology,
saying they believe it is part of an increasingly alarming
pattern of single party rule:
“Democrats have been completely shut out of the
that I understand have taken place this week about the
REAL ID Act,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid
“This is not the way the United States Senate
should be doing business, and this is certainly not
the way the American people expect that the laws that
govern their daily lives will be produced," he
added. "This is yet another example of the Republican
leadership's abuse of power."
In a put out by the White House in support of the Real
ID legislation to the Republican caucus, the Bush administration
urged the conferees to pass the bill quickly for national
“The Administration strongly urges the conferees
to include the Real ID Act of 2005 in the final version
of the bill,” the statement said. “This
important legislation will strengthen the ability of
the United States to protect against terrorist entry
into and activities within the United States.”
“In particular,” it added, “the legislation
tightens procedures for non-citizen entry into and presence
in the United States, facilitates the building of physical
barriers where appropriate to protect U.S. borders,
and facilitates the strengthening of State standards
for the security and integrity of drivers' licenses.”
Detractors note that all of the Sept. 11 hijackers
were in the United States legally, obtaining entry visas
through the US embassy in Saudi Arabia. All also had
legal driver’s licenses.
The most contentious provisions of HR 418 and unchanged
in Real ID fall under what many see as a series
unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties and
in no way address the events of Sept. 11.
One of the new provisions of HR 418 would require individuals
seeking refuge in the U.S. from repressive or abusive
regimes to provide documented proof of their persecution
or abuse as well as the abusing government’s motivation.
“Can you imagine a Christian living in the Sudan
going to ask the government to provide the U.S. with
‘motivation’ for persecuting Christians?”
one aide said. “What do you think would happen
to that person?”
Another section of the bill allows the Homeland Security
Secretary to waive all federal, state, and local law
for the construction of “barriers,” and
is viewed by some as in direct opposition to the Constitution.
Primarily, the Secretary would have discretion to suspend
environmental, eminent domain and labor laws. The provision
is worded, however, in such a way as to not limit construction
to the external border of the country and actually includes
roads as “barriers.”
Such suspension of labor laws could affect child labor,
standards of compensation and safety, any and all compensation
for the loss of property, adverse environmental affects
and any damages resulting from toxins.
One Democratic aide told RAW
STORY that “that moderate Republicans have
privately expressed concern over the possible loss of
the Latino vote, backlash from unions, and the concern
that this in no way strengthens the border.”
The bill lays out the groundwork for a National ID
card/driver’s license program and how it is administered.
The National ID card provision does not follow the recommendations
of the 9/11 Commission and instead turns the DMV worker
into an INS worker.
Groups opposing the bill run the gamut of the political
spectrum, from the ACLU to Gun Owners of America.
“In considering this bill, the U.S. House will
vote on whether to empower the federal government to
determine who can get a driver’s license –
and under what conditions,” Gun Owners of America
said in a statement. “Since you need a driver’s
license to purchase a gun from a dealer, this will give
[the government] the expanded ability to impose even
greater forms of gun control – something which
it has long coveted. This will become even more apparent
if an anti-gun Democrat like Hillary Clinton wins the
presidency in 2008.”
Article originally published Apr. 28, 2005.