DHS grants Maine Real ID extension

Published 3 April 2008

Unless a state received a Real ID extension from DHS, then the driver’s licenses it issues to its residents must be Real ID-compliant by 11 May or state residents will not be able to board a plane, open a bank account, or enter a federal building; Maine’s application was not to DHS’s liking, so the state missed the extension application deadline; DHS decided to give the state 48 hours to comply

We wrote yesterday that Maine and South Carolina were in limbo (rather, their residents were in limbo) because both states failed to meet the deadline for applying to DHS for Real ID Act extension. Not to worry: Federal officials yesterday granted Maine an extension to comply with Real ID driver’s license security requirements after giving the state an extra forty-eight hours to refine its request. Maine was the first state formally to reject the federal law, and was the last to be given additional time to comply. DHS’s approval of an extension means that Mainers’ drivers licenses will suffice for identification at airports and federal facilities after 11 May and the state’s residents will not have to submit to added security checks. When Monday’s deadline arrived for states to ask for compliance extensions, the federal agency cited several shortcomings in Maine’s effort and ordered the state to make corrections.

DHS wants the state to stop issuing licenses to illegal aliens, a matter that has been particularly contentious in Maine. Unlike most states, Maine requires neither proof of citizenship nor proof of residency from license applicants. Governor John Baldacci called the government’s demands “reasonable” and said he planned to submit legislation to address all of those shortcomings. “I have an obligation to make sure that state government acts in the best interest of all the people of Maine,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. He added that he would “use the resources at my disposal to make sure they are implemented.” Baldacci said he wants the state to ensure that Maine residents are not penalized because of the state’s identification standards, saying, “That’s unacceptable to me.”

Baldacci said it is time for Maine to enhance the security of its driver’s licenses. At least three cases have prosecuted in Maine since 2006 involving illegal aliens procuring state driver’s licenses. The governor submitted a bill Wednesday that seeks to limit state credentials to U.S. citizens or to others who can establish their legal presence in the country. It also seeks to enroll the state in a system to verify homeland decurity documents presented by non-citizens, and create a policy to make a non-citizen’s license expire at the same time as the alien’s legal status ends. The governor wants to make sure no one gets more than one driver’s license or state ID. In addition, Maine would change its driver’s license procedure so photographs are taken at the beginning of the process. In that way, images are captured even if applications are not completed in their entirety.

Civil libertarians, who see Real ID as a national identification card as opposed to an anti-terrorism effort, said Baldacci blinked first in the state’s stare-down with the federal government. “The governor is trading constitutional rights for convenience,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. Bellows took the governor to task for seeking “radical changes without due deliberation and serious concern for the full range of consequences for Mainers’ privacy and security.” She said the federal government’s threat to keep Mainers off planes if the state had not secured a waiver was “arbitrary and probably unconstitutional.” The American Civil Liberties Union saw the DHA action in Maine as a victory, said its senior legal council Tim Sparapani. “The DHS has accepted essentially a mere promise of legislation to grant a waiver,” he said.