Real ID Act

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Real ID Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005
  • Reaffirmation of State Regulation of Resident and Nonresident Hunting and Fishing Act of 2005
  • Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005
Long titleAn Act to establish and rapidly implement regulations for state driver's license and identification document security standards, to prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States, to unify terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and removal, and to ensure expeditious construction of the San Diego border fence.
NicknamesReal ID Act of 2005
Enacted bythe 109th United States Congress
  • May 11, 2008 (original);[1]
  • January 20, 2014 (current)[2]
Public law109-13
Statutes at Large119 Stat. 302
Titles amended8 U.S.C.: Aliens and Nationality
U.S.C. sections amended8 U.S.C. ch. 12, subch. I § 1101 et seq.
Legislative history
Map of states according to compliance with the Real ID Act
Real ID Act compliance by year of DHS certification, as of June 2021.
  Under review

The Real ID Act of 2005, Pub.L. 109–13 (text) (pdf), 119 Stat. 302, enacted May 11, 2005, is an Act of Congress that modifies U.S. federal law pertaining to security, authentication, and issuance procedure standards for drivers' licenses and identity documents, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism.

The law sets forth requirements for state drivers' licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes", as defined by the Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary of Homeland Security has defined "official purposes" as boarding commercially operated airline flights, and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants, although the law gives the Secretary unlimited authority to require a "federal identification" for any other purposes.[4]

The Real ID Act implements the following:

  • Title II of the act establishes new federal standards for state-issued drivers' licenses and non-driver identification cards.
  • Changing visa limits for temporary workers, nurses, and Australian citizens.
  • Funding some reports and pilot projects related to border security.
  • Introducing rules covering "delivery bonds" (similar to bail, but for aliens who have been released pending hearings).
  • Updating and tightening laws on application for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorism.
  • Waiving laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders.

On December 20, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security announced that implementation of Phase 1 would begin on January 20, 2014, which followed a yearlong period of "deferred enforcement". There are four planned phases, three of which apply to areas that affect relatively few people—e.g., DHS headquarters, nuclear power plants, and restricted and semi-restricted federal facilities such as military bases.[5] On January 8, 2016, DHS issued an implementation schedule for Phase 4, stating that starting January 22, 2018, passengers with a driver's license issued by a state that is not compliant with the REAL ID Act (and has not been granted an extension) will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel to board their flight. Starting May 3, 2023 (originally scheduled for October 1, 2020, but postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic[6] and then postponed a second time), every air traveler will need a REAL ID–compliant license or another acceptable form of identification (such as a U.S. passport, U.S. passport card, U.S. military card, or DHS trusted traveler card, e.g. Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST) for domestic air travel.[6][7][8] As of June 2021, all states and territories have been certified as compliant except American Samoa, which is under review.[9]

Legislative history[edit]

The Real ID Act started off as H.R. 418, which passed the House[10] in 2005 and went stagnant. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R) of Wisconsin, the author of the original Real ID Act, then attached it as a rider on a military spending bill, H.R. 1268, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005. The House of Representatives passed that spending bill with the Real ID rider 368–58,[11] and the Senate passed the joint House–Senate conference report on that bill 100–0.[12] President Bush signed it into law on May 11, 2005.[3]

Congressional efforts to change or repeal the Real ID Act[edit]

On February 28, 2007, U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced the Senate Bill S. 717, "Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007", subtitled: "A bill to repeal title II of the REAL ID Act of 2005, to restore section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which provides States additional regulatory flexibility and funding authorization to more rapidly produce tamper- and counterfeit-resistant drivers' licenses, and to protect privacy and civil liberties by providing interested stakeholders on a negotiated rule making with guidance to achieve improved 21st century licenses to improve national security".[13] The bill was co-sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Max Baucus (D-MT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John E. Sununu (R-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT). The bill was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on February 28, 2007.

A similar bill was introduced on February 16, 2007, in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Allen (D-ME), with 32 co-sponsors (all Democrats). The House bill, H.R. 1117, "REAL ID Repeal and Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007", is subtitled: "A bill to repeal title II of the REAL ID Act of 2005, to restore section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which provides States additional regulatory flexibility and funding authorization to more rapidly produce tamper- and counterfeit-resistant drivers' licenses, and to protect privacy and civil liberties by providing interested stakeholders on a negotiated rule making with guidance to achieve improved 21st century licenses to improve national security."[14] On May 23, 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee referred H.R. 1117 to the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement.

A more limited bill, S. 563, that would extend the deadlines for the states' compliance with the Real ID Act, was introduced on February 13, 2007, in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), together with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Charles Hagel (R-NE), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).[15]


As passed by Congress, implementation of the Real ID Act was to be done in phases to ensure that it was to be executed in a way that was both fair and responsible. The DHS outlines a commitment to timely implementation of the four phases of the act and assert that the availability of extensions should not be assumed. However, this decision to implement the act in a gradual way resulted in postponement from the federal end.[16] On March 2, 2007, it was announced that enforcement of the Act would be postponed until December 2009.[17] On January 11, 2008, it was announced that the deadline has been extended again to 2011.[18] On the same date the Department of Homeland Security released the final rule[19] regarding the implementation of the drivers' licenses provisions of the Real ID Act.[20] Although initially cautioned against, state extensions for compliance were authorized by the DHS which further postponed enactment. Extensions for states were granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security after the provision of satisfactory justification.[21]

Implementation progress[edit]

As of April 2, 2008, all 50 states had either applied for extensions of the original May 11, 2008 compliance deadline or received unsolicited extensions.[22] As of October 2009, 25 states approved either resolutions or binding legislation not to participate in the program. When President Obama selected Janet Napolitano (a prominent critic of the program) to head the Department of Homeland Security, the future of the law was considered uncertain,[23] and bills were introduced into Congress to amend or repeal it.[24] In 2009, the most recent of these, would have eliminated many of the more burdensome technological requirements but still require states to meet federal standards in order to have their ID cards accepted by federal agencies.

There are four planned phases, each one beginning with a "notification period". Noncompliant IDs continue to be accepted during the notification period, as well as afterwards if their respective state or territory is granted an extension, until a final deadline for all phases.

  • Phase 1: restricted areas at the DHS headquarters on Nebraska Avenue
    • January 20, 2014 – notification period
    • April 21, 2014 – enforcement, but extensions may be granted
  • Phase 2: restricted areas for all federal facilities and nuclear power plants
    • April 21, 2014 – notification period
    • July 21, 2014 – enforcement, but extensions may be granted
  • Phase 3: semi-restricted areas for remaining federal facilities
    • Phase 3a: facility security levels 1 and 2[9]
      • October 20, 2014 – notification period
      • January 19, 2015 – enforcement, but extensions may be granted
    • Phase 3b: facility security levels 3, 4, and 5[9]
      • July 13, 2015 – notification period
      • October 10, 2015 – enforcement, but extensions may be granted
  • Phase 4: air travel[25]
    • January 8, 2016 – notification period
    • January 22, 2018 – enforcement, but extensions may be granted
  • All phases
    • May 3, 2023 – extensions no longer granted; delayed due to COVID-19, formerly October 1, 2021 [6][26]

Analysis of the law[edit]

IDs and drivers' licenses as identification[edit]

In the United States, drivers' licenses are issued by the states, not by the federal government. Additionally, because the United States has no national identification card and because of the widespread use of motor vehicles, drivers' licenses have been used as a de facto standard form of identification within the country. For non-drivers, states also issue voluntary identification cards which do not grant driving privileges. Prior to the Real ID Act, each state set its own rules and criteria regarding the issuance of a driver's license or identification card, including the look of the card, what data is on the card, what documents must be provided to obtain one, and what information is stored in each state's database of licensed drivers and identification card holders.[citation needed]

Federally mandated standards for state drivers' licenses or ID cards[edit]

Driver's license implications

  • Title II of Real ID – "Improved Security for Driver's License and Personal Identification Cards" – repeals the driver's license provisions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, enacted in December 2004.[27] Section 7212 of that law established a cooperative state-federal rule-making procedure to create federal standards for drivers' licenses. Instead, the Real ID Act directly imposed specific federal standards.

The Real ID Act Driver's License Summary details the following provisions of the Act's driver's license title:[28]

  • Authority
  • Data Retention and Storage
  • DL/ID Document Standards
  • Grants to States
  • Immigration Requirements
  • Linking of Databases
  • Minimum DL/ID Issuance Standards
  • Minimum Standards for Federal Use
  • Repeal of 9/11 Commission Implementation Act DL/ID Provisions
  • Security and Fraud Prevention Standards
  • Verification of Documents

After 2011, "a Federal agency may not accept, for any official purpose, a driver's license or identification card issued by a state to any person unless the state is meeting the requirements" specified in the Real ID Act. The DHS will continue to consider additional ways in which a Real ID license can or should be used for official federal purposes without seeking the approval of Congress before doing so. States remain free to also issue non-complying licenses and IDs, so long as these have a unique design and a clear statement that they cannot be accepted for any federal identification purpose. The federal Transportation Security Administration is responsible for security check-in at airports, so bearers of non-compliant documents would no longer be able to travel on common carrier aircraft without additional screening unless they had an alternative government-issued photo ID.[29]

The national license/ID standards cover:

  • How the states must share their databases both domestically and internationally through the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA)
  • What data must be included on the card and what technology it is encoded with
  • What documentation must be presented and electronically stored before a card can be issued

These requirements are not new. They replace similar language in Section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Pub.L. 108–458 (text) (pdf)), which had not yet gone into effect before being repealed by the Real ID Act.[citation needed]

Data requirements[edit]

A Real ID-compliant form of identification requires the following pieces of data:

  • Full legal name
  • Signature
  • Date of birth
  • Gender
  • Unique identifying number
  • Principal residence address
  • Front-facing photograph of the applicant

Compliant IDs must also feature specific security features intended to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of the document for fraudulent purposes. The cards must also present data in a common, machine-readable format (bar codes, smart card technology, etc.). Although the use of wireless RFID chips was offered for consideration in the proposed rule making process, it was not included in the latest rule making process.[30] DHS could consider additional technological requirements to be incorporated into licenses after consulting with the states. In addition, DHS has required the use of RFID chips in its Enhanced Driver's License program, which the Department has proposed as an alternative to REAL ID.[31]

Documentation required before issuing a license or ID card[edit]

Before a card can be issued, the applicant must provide the following documentation:[32]

  • A photo ID, or a non-photo ID that includes full legal name and birthdate
  • Documentation of birthdate
  • Documentation of legal status and Social Security number
  • Documentation showing name and principal residence address

Digital images of each document will be stored in each state DMV database.

Document verification requirements[edit]

Section 202(c)(3) of the Real ID Act[33] requires states to "verify, with the issuing agency, the issuance, validity, and completeness of each document" that is required to be presented by a driver's license applicant to prove the identity, birth date, legal status in the U.S., social security number and the address of the principal residence of the applicant. The same section states that the only foreign document acceptable is a foreign passport.

The DHS final rule[19] regarding implementation of the Real ID Act driver's license provisions relaxes, and in some instances waives altogether, these verification requirements of the Real ID Act. Thus the DHS rule leaves the implementation of this verification requirement to discretion of states (page 5297 of the DHS final rule in the Federal Register).[19] However, the DHS rule, Section 37.11(c), mandates that REAL ID license applicants be required to present at least two documents documenting the address of their primary residence.

The DHS rule declines to implement as impractical the provision of the Act requiring verification of the validity of foreign passports presented by foreign driver's license applicants as proof of identity with the authorities that issued these foreign passports (page 5294 of the DHS final rule in the Federal Register).[19]

Section 37.11(c) of the DHS final rule allows states to accept several types of documents as proof of social security number: a social security card, a W-2 form, an SSA-1099 form, a non-SSA-1099 form, or a pay stub bearing the applicant's name and SSN. However, states are not required to verify the validity of these documents directly with their issuers (e.g. with the employer that issued a W-2 form or a pay stub). Instead, the DHS rule requires the states to verify the validity, and its match with the name given, of the social security number itself, via electronically querying the Social Security On-Line Verification (SSOLV) database managed by the Social Security Administration.

The DHS rule, Section 37.13(b)(3), specifies that the validity of birth certificates, presented to document the date of birth or to prove U.S. citizenship, should be verified electronically, by accessing the Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE) system maintained by the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), rather than directly with the issuers of the birth certificates (such as state vital records agencies).

Linking of license and ID card databases[edit]

Each state must agree to share its motor vehicle database with all other states. This database must include, at a minimum, all the data printed on the state drivers' licenses and ID cards, plus drivers' histories (including motor vehicle violations, suspensions, and points on licenses). Among other motivations, the database is intended to "improve the ability of law enforcement officers at all levels to confirm the identity of the individuals" holding an ID.[34]

The only system available with the capability to satisfy the Real ID Act requirements for database access is the "State to State" (S2S) system developed by the AAMVA and Clerus Solutions under contract with state motor vehicle licensing agencies ultimately funded by federal grants. A component of S2S is State Pointer Exchange Services (SPEXS), a central national database of "pointer" information about all Real ID compliant licenses and state ID cards.[35] The system also offers a "Verification of Legal Status" component which sends new entries to DHS for verification.[36]

Original legislation contained one of the most controversial elements which did not make it into the final legislation that was signed into law. It would have required states to sign a new compact known as the Driver License Agreement (DLA) as written by the Joint Driver's License Compact/ Non-Resident Violators Compact Executive Board with staff support provided by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) and as approved by state Driver Licensing Agency representatives. The DLA is a consolidation of the Driver License Compact and the Non-Resident Violator Compact, which have 46 and 45 member states, respectively. The following controversial elements of the DLA are already in the existing compacts: a convicting state must report out-of-state convictions to the licensing state, states must grant license reciprocity to drivers licensed in other states, and states must allow authorities in other states access to driving records, consistent with the Driver Privacy Protection Act.[citation needed]

The requirement in the law for interstate access to state license and ID data has not been included in the DHS criteria for certification of state compliance or progress toward compliance.[37]

Foreign data sharing[edit]

New controversial requirements of the DLA are: (1) provinces and territories in Canada and states in Mexico are allowed to join the DLA and (2) member states, provinces, and territories are subject to reviews by DLA authorities for compliance with the provisions of the DLA. The DLA originated in concept with the 1994 establishment of a North American Driver License Agreement (NADLA) task force, and has created controversy among state representatives opposed to citizen data being shared with other countries.[38][39] According to a 2005 analysis of the DLA done by the National Conference of State Legislators, the DLA defines "jurisdiction" to allow participation by a territory or province of Canada and by any state of Mexico or the Federal District of Mexico. The DLA can be amended by a vote of at least two-thirds of the member jurisdictions.


On January 11, 2008, DHS released the final rule regarding the implementation of the drivers' licenses provisions of the Real ID Act.[19] Under the DHS final rule, those states that chose to comply with Driver's License provisions of the Real ID Act are allowed to apply for up to two extensions of the May 11, 2008 deadline for implementing these provisions: an extension until no later than December 31, 2009 and an additional extension until no later than May 11, 2011. The DHS final rule mandates that all states that do not apply to DHS for an extension of the May 11, 2008 implementation deadline, by March 31, 2008, will be subject to that deadline: after May 11, 2008, drivers' licenses issued by such states will not be accepted for federal purposes. For all states with an extension until March 11, 2011, drivers' licenses issued by the states, that are not deemed to be in full compliance with the Real ID Act, will not be accepted for federal purposes. The Secretary of Homeland Security is given discretion to determine the scope of such official purposes in the future.[40]

In March 2011, DHS further postponed the effective date of the Real ID Act implementation deadline until January 15, 2013.[41] Following a deferment in the enforcement of the Real ID Act, it was announced that the first phase would begin enforcement on April 21, 2014.

DHS announced at the end of 2013 that the TSA will accept noncompliant state identification cards for domestic flights at least until 2016.[42]

After the final implementation deadline, some non-Real-ID–compliant licenses continued to be accepted for federal purposes, if DHS determines that the issuing state is in full compliance with the Real ID Act by the final implementation deadline. However, in order for their licenses to be accepted for federal purposes, people born after December 1, 1964, were to have been required to have Real-ID–compliant cards by December 1, 2014, and people born before December 1, 1964, by December 1, 2017. In December 2014, these deadlines were extended to October 1, 2020.[43] In March 2020, they were extended again to October 1, 2021.[6]


As of 2005, several portions of the Real ID Act have imposed higher burdens and stricter standards of proof for individuals applying for asylum and other related forms of relief. For the first time, immigration judges can require an applicant to produce corroborating evidence (8 U.S.C. § 1229a(c)(4)(B). Additionally, the government may also require that an applicant produce corroborating evidence, a requirement that may be overcome only if the judge is convinced that such evidence is unavailable (8 U.S.C. § 1252(b)(4)).

Restricting illegal immigrants or legal immigrants who are unable to prove their legal status, or lack social security numbers, from obtaining drivers' licenses may keep them from obtaining liability insurance and from working, causing many immigrants and foreign nationals to lose their jobs or to travel internationally in order to renew their driver's license. Furthermore, for visitors on J-1 and H1B visas, the fact that visas may expire before their legal stay is over (this happens due to the fact that J-1 visas are issued with a one-year expiration date but visitors are allowed to stay for their "duration of status" as long as they have a valid contract) can make the process of renewing a driver's license extremely complex and, as mentioned above, force legal foreign citizens to travel abroad only to renew a visa which would not need to be renewed if it weren't for the need to renew one's driver's license. In October 2007, then-governor of New York Eliot Spitzer announced that the state will adopt a similar "multi-tiered" licensing scheme in which the state will issue three different kinds of driver licenses, two of which comply with the Real ID security requirements and one which will be marked as "not for federal ID" purposes.[44] However, following a political outcry, Spitzer withdrew his proposal to issue licenses to those unable to prove legal residence.[45]

Waiving laws that interfere with construction of border barriers[edit]

An earlier law (Section 102 of Pub.L. 104–208 (text) (pdf) which is now part of 8 U.S.C. § 1103) provided for improvements to physical barriers at the borders of the United States.

Subsection (a) of the law read as follows: "The Attorney General, in consultation with the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, shall take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers and roads (including the removal of obstacles to detection of illegal entrants) in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States."

Subsection (b) orders the Attorney General to commence work on specified improvements to a 14-mile section of the existing border fence near San Diego, and allocates funds for the project.

Subsection (c) provides for waivers of laws that interfere with the work described in subsections (a) and (b), including the National Environmental Policy Act. Prior to the Real ID Act, this subsection allowed waivers of only two specific federal environmental laws.

The Real ID Act amends the language of subsection (c) to make the following changes:

  • Allows waivers of any and all laws "necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section".
  • Gives this waiver authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security (rather than the Attorney General). Waivers are made at his sole discretion.
  • Restricts court review of waiver decisions: "The district courts of the United States shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear all causes or claims arising from any action undertaken, or any decision made, by the Secretary of Homeland Security pursuant to paragraph (1). A cause of action or claim may only be brought alleging a violation of the Constitution of the United States. The court shall not have jurisdiction to hear any claim not specified in this subparagraph." Claims are barred unless filed within 60 days, and cases may be appealed "only upon petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court".

As of 2020, in the regions where wall construction is taking place, this section of the law (Section 102) is having significant and measurable negative impacts on the natural and cultural heritage of the United States. One example is at Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. Quitobaquito Springs are home to the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish and the Sonoyta mud turtle.[46] The spring and surrounding lands are sacred to the Hia-Ced O'odham and the Tohono O'odham.[47] The spring is one of the only reliable above-ground water sources in the Sonoran Desert.[46] Located 200 feet from the US-Mexico border and therefore construction of the border wall, the flow of water has declined precipitously since March 2020, and threatens the sacred cultural landscape as well as the two endangered species, along with many other desert animals and plants which rely on the water.[46]

Application for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorist activity[edit]

The Real ID Act introduces strict laws governing applications for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorist activity. However, at the same time, it makes two minor changes to U.S. immigration law:

  • Elimination of the 10,000 annual limit for previously approved asylees to adjust to permanent legal residence.
  • Usage of 50,000 unused employment-based visas from 2003. This was a compromise between proponents who had earlier tried to include all employment visas which went unused between 2001 and 2004, and immigration restrictionists. They were used, mostly in fiscal year 2006, for Schedule A workers newly arrived mainly from the Philippines and India, rather than for adjustments of status cases like the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act.[citation needed]

The deportation of aliens for terrorist activities is governed by the following provisions: Section 212(a)(3)(B): Terrorist activities The INA (Immigration & Nationality Act) defines "terrorist activity" to mean any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State) and which involves any of the following:

  • (I) The hijacking or sabotage of any conveyance (including an aircraft, vessel, or vehicle).
  • (II) The seizing or detaining, and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain, another individual in order to compel a third person (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the individual seized or detained.
  • (III) A violent attack upon an internationally protected person (as defined in Section 1116(b)(4) of Title 18, United States Code) or upon the liberty of such a person.
  • (IV) An assassination.
  • (V) The use of any:
    • (a) biological agent, chemical agent, or nuclear weapon or device.
    • (b) explosive, firearm, or other weapon or dangerous device (other than for mere personal monetary gain), with intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.
  • (VI) A threat, attempt, or conspiracy to do any of the foregoing.

Other pertinent portions of Section 212(a)(3)(B) are set forth below: "Engage in terrorist activity" defined As used in this chapter (Chapter 8 of the INA), the term, "engage in terrorist activity" means in an individual capacity or as a member of an organization:

  • to commit or to incite to commit, under circumstances indicating an intention to cause death or serious bodily injury, a terrorist activity;
  • to gather information on potential targets for terrorist activity;
  • to prepare or plan a terrorist activity;
  • to solicit funds or other things of value for:
    • (aa) a terrorist activity;
    • (bb) a terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(I) or (vi)(II);
    • (cc) a terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(III), unless the solicitor can demonstrate that he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the solicitation would further the organization's terrorist activity;
  • to solicit any individual:
    • (aa) to engage in conduct otherwise described in this clause;
    • (bb) for membership in terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(I) or (vi)(II); or
    • (cc) for membership in a terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(III), unless the solicitor can demonstrate that he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the solicitation would further the organization's terrorist activity; or
  • to commit an act that the actor knows, or reasonably should know, affords material support, including a safe house, transportation, communications, funds, transfer of funds or other material financial benefit, false documentation or identification, weapons (including chemical, biological, or radiological weapons), explosives, or training:
    • (aa) for the commission of a terrorist activity;
    • (bb) to any individual who the actor knows, or reasonably should know, has committed or plans to commit a terrorist activity;
    • (cc) to a terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(I) or (vi)(II); or
    • (dd) to a terrorist organization described in Clause (vi)(III), unless the actor can demonstrate that he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the act would further the organization's terrorist activity.

This clause shall not apply to any material support the alien afforded to an organization or individual that has committed terrorist activity, if the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Attorney General, or the Attorney General, after consultation with the Secretary of State, concludes in his sole unreviewable discretion, that that this clause should not apply." "Representative" defined As used in this paragraph, the term, "representative" includes an officer, official, or spokesman of an organization, and any person who directs, counsels, commands, or induces an organization or its members to engage in terrorist activity. "Terrorist organization" defined As used in Clause (i)(VI) and Clause (iv), the term 'foreign terrorist organization' means an organization:

  • designated under Section 219 (8 U.S.C. § 1189);
  • otherwise designated, upon publication in the Federal Register, by the Secretary of State in consultation with or upon the request of the Attorney General, as a terrorist organization, after finding that the organization engages in the activities described in Subclause (I), (II), or (III) of Clause (iv), or that the organization provides material support to further terrorist activity; or
  • that is a group of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engages in the activities described in Subclause (I), (II), or (III) of Clause (iv).

Section 140(d)(2) of the "Foreign Relations Authorization Act", Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 defines "terrorism" as "premeditated, politically motivated violence, perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents".

Other provisions[edit]

Delivery bonds[edit]

The Real ID Act introduces complex rules covering "delivery bonds". These resemble bail bonds, but are to be required for aliens who have been released pending hearings.

Miscellaneous provisions[edit]

The remaining sections of the Real ID Act allocate funding for some reports and pilot projects related to border security, and change visa limits for temporary workers, nurses, and Australians. Under the Real ID Act, nationals of Australia are eligible to receive a special E-3 visa. This provision was the result of negotiations between the two countries that also led to the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement which came into force on January 1, 2005. On December 17, 2018, H.R. 3398 amended the Real ID Act of 2005 to remove an outdated reference to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (terminated in 1994) and clarify that citizens of its successor Freely Associated States (Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau) are eligible for drivers' licenses and ID cards when admitted to the U.S.[48]


Starting May 3, 2023, "every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification (such as a passport, passport card, U.S. military card, or DHS trusted traveler card, e.g. Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST) for domestic air travel."[7][8][6]

State adoption and non-compliance[edit]

Portions of the Real ID Act pertaining to states were scheduled to take effect on May 11, 2008, three years after the law passed, but the deadline had been extended to December 31, 2009.[49] On January 11, 2008, it was announced the deadline had been extended again, until 2011, in hopes of gaining more support from states.[18] On March 5, 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) postponed the effective date of the Real ID Act until January 15, 2013, a move that avoided causing tremendous disruptions to air travel.[50]

The DHS began certifying states as compliant in 2012.[21] Adoption slowed after 2013 but increased significantly in 2018 and 2019, as the final phase of implementation approached and states were faced with potential air travel restrictions for their residents. As of June 2021, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories have been certified as compliant, and one territory is under review.[9]

States and territories by year of DHS certification as Real ID compliant
2012[51] 2013[52] 2014[21][53] 2018[54] 2019[55] 2020[56]

 South Dakota
 West Virginia


 District of Columbia

 New Hampshire
 New York
 North Dakota
 Puerto Rico
 South Carolina

 Rhode Island
 U.S. Virgin Islands

 New Jersey

2016[57] 2021

 New Mexico

 N. Mariana Islands

2017[58] Under review

 North Carolina

 American Samoa

The Real ID Act requires that states and territories share their ID databases with each other, but this requirement is not included in the DHS certification criteria.[37] The system used to share ID databases was implemented in 2015. As of June 2021, 34 states participate in this system.[59]

States and territories by year of joining the system to share ID databases
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

 North Dakota


 South Dakota


 New Mexico

 North Carolina
 Rhode Island


 New Hampshire

State adoption timeline[edit]

On January 25, 2007, a Resolution passed overwhelmingly in the Maine Legislature that refuses to implement the Real ID Act in that state and calls on Congress to repeal the law. Many Maine lawmakers believed that the law would do more harm than good, they were concerned that it would create bureaucratic problems, threaten individual privacy, that it could make citizens more vulnerable to ID theft, and it would cost Maine taxpayers at least $185 million in five years to implement all aspects of the bill. The Resolution vote in the Maine House was 137–4 and in the Maine Senate unanimous, 34–0.[60]

On February 16, 2007, Utah unanimously passed a resolution that opposes the Real ID Act.[61] The resolution states that Real ID is "in opposition to the Jeffersonian principles of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government". It further states that "the use of identification-based security cannot be justified as part of a 'layered' security system if the costs of the identification 'layer'—in dollars, lost privacy, and lost liberty—are greater than the security identification provides":

—the 'common machine-readable technology' required by the Real ID Act would convert state-issued driver licenses and identification cards into tracking devices, allowing computers to note and record people's whereabouts each time they are identified.

—the requirement that states maintain databases of information about their citizens and residents and then share this personal information with all other states will expose every state to the information security weaknesses of every other state and threaten the privacy of every American.

—the REAL ID Act wrongly coerces states into doing the federal government's bidding by threatening to refuse noncomplying states' citizens the privileges and immunities enjoyed by other states' citizens.

Alaska,[62][63] Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington state have joined Maine and Utah in passing legislation opposing Real ID.[64][65][66][67][68][69][70]

Similar resolutions are pending in Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.[71]

Other states have moved aggressively to upgrade their IDs since 9/11, and still others have staked decidedly pro-Real ID positions, such as North Carolina.[72] Some states, such as Illinois, are working to comply with Real ID despite their legislatures passing non-binding resolutions opposing it.[73] In announcing the new regulations, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff cited Alabama, California, and North Dakota as examples of states that had made progress in complying with Real ID.[74]

On July 7, 2008, Puerto Rico's Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá announced that all 15 Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works Driver's Services Centers will implement a new system complying with the Real-ID Act.[75]

As of January 29, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has announced $79.8 million in grant monies[76] to assist states with Real ID implementation, and set an application deadline of March 7, 2008.

On April 16, 2009, the Missouri House of Representatives passed the anti Real ID bill HB 361 to repeal section 302.171, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof two new sections relating to noncompliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005 sponsored by Representative Jim Guest by a vote of 83 Ayes 69 Noes and 3 Present. On May 13, 2009 the Missouri Senate unanimously passed HB 361, 43 Ayes 0 Noes. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed this bill into law on July 13, 2009.[77] This was later repealed in 2017.[78][79] Alaska repealed its anti-Real-ID law in 2017.[80]

For the 2012 Florida Legislative Session, the anti-Real ID bill HB 109[81] and its Senate companion S 220 will be heard.[82] Named the Florida Driver's License Citizen Protection Act,[83] it would require discontinuation of several of the federally mandated provisions of Real ID and destruction of citizen's documents that had been scanned into the government database. That bill died in Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee on March 9, 2012.[84]

New Jersey planned to begin issuing Real ID compliant drivers' licenses and non-driver ID cards beginning May 7, 2012,[85] but was forestalled by a temporary restraining order issued on May 4, 2012 on motion of the ACLU.[86] On October 5, 2012, the state subsequently agreed to drop its Real ID compliant license plan, settling the lawsuit brought by the ACLU.[87]

On July 1, 2012, Georgia began issuing Real ID compliant drivers' licenses and non-driver ID cards.[88] The increase in items needed to show in order to receive a license caused wait times to reach up to five hours.[89]

Although Hawaii had expressed opposition to some portions of the Real ID Act, it began requiring proof of legal presence in March 2012.[90] Hawaii's updated drivers' licenses and non-driver ID cards were deemed fully compliant by the Department of Homeland Security in September 2013.[91]

On November 12, 2014, Nevada began offering Real ID compliant drivers' licenses to residents. Nevadans have a choice of a Real ID compliant card or a standard card with the heading "Not for Federal Official Use".[92]

On April 14, 2015, Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a bill allowing the state to begin the process of making Arizona drivers' licenses Real ID compliant.[93] Work on creating the drivers' licenses has already begun, however the Arizona Department of Transportation has requested an extension on the implementation so that residents can still use current ID past the January 2016 deadline to board a commercial flight and implement Real ID when the state is ready.[94]

On March 8, 2016, the incumbent governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, signed House Bill 99 into law, hence bringing New Mexico into Real ID compliance.[95]

The New Mexico MVD began issuing Real ID compliant drivers' licenses and identification cards beginning November 14, 2016.[96]

On March 1, 2017, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed HB 1845 as the first bill signed in Oklahoma's 2017 legislative session, bringing the state into compliance with the Real ID Act.[97]

On May 18, 2017, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation to bring Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID Act by October 2018.[98]

Starting January 22, 2018, the California DMV started providing federal compliant Real ID driver licenses and ID cards as an option to customers .[99] However, on December 24, the Department of Homeland Security has notified the California DMV that their Real ID driver licenses are not Real ID Compliant. This is because the California DMV has been requesting one "Proof of Residency" document as opposed to the minimum two as defined under Federal Law. The California DMV responded stating they will begin asking for two Residency Documents beginning in April 2019.

Any Real ID Driver License or Identification Card issued before April 2019 will still be valid, however, letters were sent out to persons who only submitted one proof of residency to get their Real ID. The letter asked for the person to check a box to verify that the mailing address of record was still valid and to return the letter in a provided envelope. Otherwise, the person was directed to return the letter with two documents which demonstrate the correct address, and to submit a separate address correction.[100] The Massachusetts RMV also started this option on March 26, 2018,[101] and the Ohio BMV on July 2, 2018.[102][103]

On March 25, 2019, Missouri became the 47th state to implement and comply with the Real ID Act.[104]

Controversy and opposition[edit]

The Bush administration's Real ID Act was strongly supported by the conservative Heritage Foundation and by many opponents of illegal immigration.[105] However, it faced criticism from across the political spectrum, including from libertarian groups, like the Cato Institute;[106] immigrant advocacy groups; human and civil rights organizations, like the ACLU; Christian advocacy groups, such as the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ);[107] privacy advocacy groups, like the 511 campaign; state-level opposition groups, such as North Carolinians Against Real ID[108] and government accountability groups in Florida;[109] labor groups, like AFL-CIO; People for the American Way; consumer and patient protection groups; some gun rights groups, such as Gun Owners of America; many state lawmakers, state legislatures, and governors; The Constitution Party;[105][110] and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, among others.

Highlighting the broad diversity of the coalition opposing Title II of the Real ID Act, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), founded by evangelical Christian Pat Robertson, participated in a joint press conference with the ACLU in 2008.[111]

Among the 2008 presidential candidates, John McCain strongly supported the Real ID Act, but Hillary Clinton called for it to be reviewed, Barack Obama and Ron Paul flatly opposed it, and Mike Huckabee called it "a huge mistake."[112][113] The subsequent Obama administration opposed it.

The Real ID Act causes special concerns for transgender people.[114] In 2008, Cindy Southworth, technology project director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, noted a "conundrum" in the mission "to identify people who are dangerous, such as terrorists, and at the same time, to keep "everyday citizens and victims safe."[115] The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has also voiced concern about Real ID.[116]

Florida Libertarian Party chair Adrian Wyllie drove without carrying a driver's license in 2011 in protest of the Real ID Act. After being ticketed, Wyllie argued in court that Florida's identification laws violated his privacy rights; this claim was rejected by a judge.[117]

Congressional passage procedure controversy[edit]

The original Real ID Act, H. R. 418, was approved by the House on February 10, 2005, by a vote of 261–161. At the insistence of the Real ID Act sponsor and then House Judiciary Committee Chair F. James Sensenbrenner (Republican, Wisconsin), the Real ID Act was subsequently attached by the House Republican leadership as a rider to H.R. 1268, a bill dealing with emergency appropriations for the Iraq War and with the tsunami relief funding. H.R. 1268 was widely regarded as a "must-pass" legislation. The original version of H.R. 1268 was passed by the Senate on April 21, 2005, and did not include the Real ID Act. However, the Real ID Act was inserted in the conference report on H.R. 1268 that was then passed by the House on May 5, 2005, by a 368–58 vote and was unanimously passed by the Senate on May 10, 2005.[118] The Senate never discussed or voted on the Real ID Act specifically and no Senate committee hearings were conducted on the Real ID Act prior to its passage.[119] Critics charged that this procedure was undemocratic and that the bill's proponents avoided a substantive debate on a far-reaching piece of legislation by attaching it to a "must-pass" bill.[119][120][121][122]

A May 3, 2005, statement by the American Immigration Lawyers Association said: "Because Congress held no hearings or meaningful debate on the legislation and amended it to a must-pass spending bill, the Real ID Act did not receive the scrutiny necessary for most measures, and most certainly not the level required for a measure of this importance and impact. Consistent with the lack of debate and discussion, conference negotiations also were held behind closed doors, with Democrats prevented from participating."[123]

National ID card controversy[edit]

There is disagreement about whether the Real ID Act institutes a "national identification card" system.[124] The new law only sets forth national standards, but leaves the issuance of cards and the maintenance of databases in state hands; therefore, the Department of Homeland Security claims it is not a "national ID" system.[125] Web sites such as,, and argue that this is a trivial distinction, and that the new cards are in fact national ID cards, thanks to the uniform national standards created by the AAMVA and (especially) the linked databases, and by the fact that such identification is mandatory if people wish to travel out of the United States.

Many advocacy groups and individual opponents of the Real ID Act believe that having a Real ID-compliant license may become a requirement for various basic tasks. Thus a January 2008 statement by ACLU of Maryland says: "The law places no limits on potential required uses for Real IDs. In time, Real IDs could be required to vote, collect a Social Security check, access Medicaid, open a bank account, go to an Orioles game, or buy a gun. The private sector could begin mandating a Real ID to perform countless commercial and financial activities, such as renting a DVD or buying car insurance. Real ID cards would become a necessity, making them de facto national IDs". However, in order to perform some tasks, government-issued identification is already required (e.g., two forms of ID – usually a driver's license, passport, or Social Security card – are required by the Patriot Act in order to open a bank account).[126]


Some critics claim that the Real ID Act violates the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as a federal legislation in an area that, under the terms of the Tenth Amendment, is the province of the states. Thus, Anthony Romero, the executive director of ACLU, stated: "Real ID is an unfunded mandate that violates the Constitution's 10th Amendment on state powers, destroys states' dual sovereignty and consolidates every American's private information, leaving all of us far more vulnerable to identity thieves".[127]

Former Republican U.S. Representative Bob Barr wrote in a February 2008 article: "A person not possessing a Real ID Act-compliant identification card could not enter any federal building, or an office of his or her congressman or senator or the U.S. Capitol. This effectively denies that person their fundamental rights to assembly and to petition the government as guaranteed in the First Amendment".[128]

The DHS final rule regarding implementation of the Real ID Act discusses a number of constitutional concerns raised by the commenters on the proposed version of this rule.[19] The DHS rule explicitly rejects the assertion that the implementation of the Real ID Act will lead to violations of the citizens' individual constitutional rights (page 5284 of the DHS rule in the Federal Register). In relation to the Tenth Amendment argument about violation of states' constitutional rights, the DHS rule acknowledges that these concerns have been raised by a number of individual commenters and in the comments by some states. The DHS rule does not attempt to rebuff the Tenth Amendment argument directly, but says that the DHS is acting in accordance with the authority granted to it by the Real ID Act and that DHS has been and will be working closely with the states on the implementation of the Real ID Act (pages 5284 and 5317 of the DHS final rule in the Federal Register).

On November 1, 2007, attorneys for Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club filed an amended complaint in U.S. District Court challenging the 2005 Real ID Act. The amended complaint alleges that this unprecedented authority violates the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. On December 18, 2007, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle rejected the challenge.[129][130]

On March 17, 2008, attorneys for Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its "constitutional challenge to the Secretary's decision waiving nineteen federal laws, and all state and local legal requirements related to them, in connection with the construction of a barrier along a portion of the border with Mexico".[131][132] They question whether the preclusion of judicial review amounts to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power and whether the "grant of waiver authority violates Article I's requirement that a duly-enacted law may be repealed only by legislation approved by both Houses of Congress and presented to the President".[131] On April 17, 2008, numerous amicus briefs "supporting the petition were filed on behalf 14 members of Congress, a diverse coalition of conservation, religious and Native American organizations, and 28 law professors and constitutional scholars".[133][134][135]

Asylum and deportation controversy[edit]

Many immigrant and civil rights advocates feel that the changes related to evidentiary standards and the immigration officers' discretion in asylum cases, contained in the Real ID Act, would prevent many legitimate asylum seekers from obtaining asylum.[136][137] Thus a 2005 article in LCCR-sponsored Civil Rights Monitor stated, "The bill also contained changes to asylum standards, which according to LCCR, would prevent many legitimate asylum seekers from obtaining safe haven in the United States. These changes gave immigration officials broad discretion to demand certain evidence to support an asylum claim, with little regard to whether the evidence can realistically be obtained; as well as the discretion to deny claims based on such subjective factors as "demeanor". Critics said the reason for putting such asylum restrictions into what was being sold as an anti terrorism bill was unclear, given that suspected terrorists are already barred from obtaining asylum or any other immigration benefit".[136]

Similarly, some immigration and human rights advocacy groups maintain that the Real ID Act provides an overly broad definition of "terrorist activity" that will prevent some deserving categories of applicants from gaining asylum or refugee status in the United States.[138] A November 2007 report by Human Rights Watch raises this criticism specifically in relation to former child soldiers who have been forcibly and illegally recruited to participate in an armed group.[139]


Many privacy rights advocates charge that by creating a national system electronically storing vast amounts of detailed personal data about individuals, the Real ID Act increases the chance of such data being stolen and thus raises the risk of identity theft.[140][141][142][143] The Bush administration, in the DHS final rule[19] regarding the Real ID Act implementation, counters that the security precautions regarding handling sensitive personal data and hiring DMV workers, that are specified in the Real ID Act and in the rule, provide sufficient protections against unauthorized use and theft of such personal data (pages 5281–5283 of the DHS final rule in the Federal Register).

Another privacy concern raised by privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation is that the implementation of the Real ID Act will make it substantially easier for the government to track numerous activities of Americans and conduct surveillance.[144][145]

Supporters of the Real ID Act, such as a conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, dismiss this criticism under the grounds that states will be permitted (by law) to share data only when validating someone's identity.[144]

The Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, which was established to advise the Department of Homeland Security on privacy-related issues, released a statement regarding the Department of Homeland Security's proposed rules for the standardization of state driver licenses on May 7, 2007.[146] The committee stated that "Given that these issues have not received adequate consideration, the Committee feels it is important that the following comments do not constitute an endorsement of REAL ID or the regulations as workable or appropriate", and "The issues pose serious risks to an individual's privacy and, without amelioration, could undermine the stated goals of the REAL ID Act".

See also[edit]


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