If U.S. Rep Mark Sanford fails with the second pass at convincing Homeland Security to grant South Carolinians an extension, folks hoping to jet off for holidays after January 2018 should either bring a passport, or be prepared for disappointment.
The Congressman and former governor sent a letter Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asking him to push back a looming deadline for when the state must comply with the “REAL ID Act of 2005.” He’s suggested the state needs more time, and has asked the state be granted until Oct. 10, 2017. The law generally goes into effect about a year after being imposed.
“I’ve never been a fan of this national program,” Sanford said Wednesday evening. “I fought it as a governor. My dream is more towards changing the law rather than extension.”
But, for now, he’s asking for time. The request focuses on the fact that getting into compliance is costly and complex (The initial cost estimate for the program nationwide to reissue licenses and create compliant databases for the estimated 214 million drivers in the United States was $17 billion.). The act went into effect in 2008, which is a tight turnaround time for a nation the size of the United States.
The letter also says South Carolina and four other states facing the same issue have made significant progress, and another 17 states that faced similar problems were granted extensions.
The problem is a bit complicated.
Congress passed the Real ID Act as a reaction to the fact that the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had valid driver’s licenses from Florida and Virginia, and used them to board the airplanes they crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
The notion was that secure, modern identification should be consistent across the country, and linked to the data the individual used when getting the driver’s license. According to a Pentagon statement, the act required that driver’s licenses have “specific security features to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication of the document. The licenses also must present data in a common, machine-readable format.”
Without that, the act makes accepting a license illegal for passengers boarding commercial flights, or civilian visitors entering a federal facility with at least nominal security.
That, however, is when the problem in South Carolina gets a bit tricky. Since October 2010, South Carolina has issued driver’s licenses that meet the new federal standard. The problem is that they aren’t hooked into a digital database that also meets the standards. This, in turn, makes them illegal to accept.
Exactly what this all would mean is difficult to figure out. Sanford said he’s heard concerns from defense contractors around the state who worry their civilian IDs won’t be satisfactory for entering a military base, or any federal facility that normally requires a picture I.D. While it appears to be true that South Carolina driver’s licenses will not get people into federal facilities after the law goes into effect, workers in such systems usually have Department of Defense issued identification card. These ID cards will remain valid.
It would be more of an issue for those who only occasionally work at federal facilities, such as Fort Jackson or Shaw Air Force Base. Without a Defense Department card, these workers would also need a passport for entry.
As Sanford said, “Most people don’t have passports.”
The complexity of the issue is summed up in a statement U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., made on the letter sent to Homeland Security.
“I support the Real ID program because it strengthens state identification requirements – protecting American families and making it harder for illegal aliens to replicate identification cards,” he wrote. “Yet, I recognize the cost placed on states, like South Carolina, to comply. Like many other states, South Carolina has made significant steps toward complying with REAL ID and should be eligible for an extension.”