Reps. Lamar Smith, Peter King, and Jim Sensenbrenner have written a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano urging her to not extend the deadline for implementation of REAL ID safeguards. According to reports, DHS is considering pushing back the deadline a further 21 months to January 15, 2013. The Representatives' letter is below.
We write regarding what we understand is your intent to extend the deadline for REAL ID Act compliance. Last week’s arrest of Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari in Texas on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction underscores the importance of the immediate implementation of REAL ID. Any further extension of REAL ID threatens the security of the United States. We cannot understand how you could even contemplate a further delay – a delay that places American lives at risk.
The criminal complaint against Aldawsari revealed several disturbing but similar methods used by the terrorists who perpetrated the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. The Aldawsari case again demonstrates how important it is for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fully implement the REAL ID Act regulation.
According to the affidavit, when the FBI searched Aldawsari’s residence, they found his journal in which he wrote of the need to obtain a forged U.S. birth certificate, multiple drivers’ licenses, and a U.S. Passport. He planned to use those drivers’ licenses to rent several cars, each with a different license, specifically to avoid detection.
Similarly, the 19 September 11 hijackers fraudulently obtained 33 driver’s licenses for the same purpose. The 9/11 Commission recognized this vulnerability to our nation’s security in its report. They stated, “Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.” Both Aldawsari and the 9/11 hijackers recognized the permissive standards and importance of state issued identification.
In order to address this vulnerability, and pursuant to the 9/11 Commission recommendation that “The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses,” Congress passed and President George Bush signed, the REAL ID Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-13).
The goal of the REAL ID Act is to prevent another 9/11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel. The REAL ID Act requires that Department of Homeland Security set minimum standards for driver’s licenses and state issued identification documents that are used for “official purposes.” Among other things, once fully implemented, the REAL ID Act would help secure drivers’ licenses by requiring states to verify applicant information.
Had the REAL ID Act regulation been fully implemented and Aldawsari tried to present a forged birth certificate to a motor vehicle department for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license, there is high likelihood that that birth certificate would have been discovered to be fraudulent. Section 37.13 (b)(3) of the REAL ID Act regulation requires that, “States much verify birth certificates presented by applicants…If the document does not appear authentic upon inspection or the data does not match…the State must not issue a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card to the applicant until the information verifies.”
Even if Aldawsari had presented his passport and immigration forms instead of a fraudulent birth certificate, the REAL ID Act regulation requires several layers of security that would have made it difficult for him to carry out his attacks. Section 37.13 (b)(1) of the REAL ID Act regulation would have required a state to verify Aldawsari’s immigration status using the Systematic Alien for Entitlements Program, and would have required that the term of the license be tied to the term of Aldawsari’s authorized stay. Section 37.29 of the REAL ID Act regulation would have prevented Aldawsari from obtaining multiple drivers’ licenses in multiple states – a goal he stated in his journal. Additionally, the REAL ID Act requires states to develop fraudulent document training and source document retention procedures.
The REAL ID Act has a multitude of national security, public safety, and immigration benefits, and has helped states upgrade their licenses. Unfortunately the Administration has not only granted extensions of REAL ID implementation deadlines, but has pushed for a repeal of REAL ID.
States have made significant progress toward compliance and Congress has authorized and appropriated funding for its implementation. Rather than usurping Congress’s authority in writing policy, DHS should commit to the law and fully support implementation. Nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the loopholes exploited by the 9/11 hijackers still exist. And those, like Aldawsari, who want to do us harm, understand that. History is only repeating itself because we are letting it.
We oppose any extension of REAL ID deadlines and look forward to working with you toward full implementation of REAL ID Act as enacted. Until REAL ID is fully implemented, terrorists will continue to exploit this vulnerability to accomplish heinous purposes.
Updated: Mon, Mar 7th 2011 @ 1:25pm EST