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Posted: October 19, 2017

What is Real ID; is your state compliant; what if it isn’t?

What Is REAL ID?

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By Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

A 2005 act that calls for states to install federal standards to issue identification documents has some travelers concerned that soon their driver’s license will not be accepted as proper id when traveling by air.

The REAL ID Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks as a measure to fight terrorism, has been rolled out in stages, with Jan. 22, 2018 being the target date for the last stage of the act to go into effect.

What is a Real ID, and what does it mean to you? 
The Department of Homeland Security offers these answers to the questions about the Real ID Act.

Q: What is REAL ID?
Passed by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet these standards. States have made considerable progress in meeting this key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission and every state has a more secure driver’s license today than before the passage of the Act.

Q: What do I need to do if I am visiting a federal facility or a military base?
Visitors seeking access to military bases and almost all federal facilities using their state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards must present proper identification issued by REAL ID compliant states or a state that has received an extension. When planning a visit to a federal facility or military base, visitors should contact the facility to determine what identification will be accepted.

Q: Will a federal agency accept my Enhanced Driver’s License?
Yes. State Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (EDLs) designated as acceptable border-crossing documents by DHS under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are acceptable for official federal purposes such as accessing a federal facility or boarding a commercial aircraft. Individual agency policies may still apply.
Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington are the only states that currently issue EDLs. For more information on EDLs, click here.

Q: REAL ID does NOT apply to the following:
-Entering Federal facilities that do not require a person to present identification
-Voting or registering to vote
-Applying for or receiving Federal benefits
-Being licensed by a state to drive
-Accessing health or life-preserving services (including hospitals and health clinics), law enforcement or constitutionally protected activities (including a defendant’s access to court proceedings)
-Participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigations

Q: When will I need to change how I travel domestically?

Starting Jan. 22, 2018, passengers who have driver’s licenses issued by a state that is not yet compliant with REAL ID and that has not received an extension will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification for domestic air travel. Please see TSA’s website for a list of acceptable forms of identification. Passengers who have licenses issued by a state that is compliant or that has an extension to become compliant with REAL ID requirements may continue to use their licenses as usual. For a list of states already in compliance or with an extension visit DHS’s REAL ID webpage. DHS continually updates this list as more states come into compliance or obtain extensions. 

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel. A REAL ID-compliant license is one that meets and is issued by a state that complies with, the REAL ID Act’s security standards. 

Travelers can check DHS’s REAL ID webpage at any time to learn if your state is compliant and can check with your state’s agency that issues driver’s licenses about how to acquire a compliant license. The earlier your state becomes compliant, the more likely you will be able to acquire a compliant license as part of the normal renewal cycle.

Q: Will minors need to have driver’s licenses to fly domestically?

TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. The companion will need acceptable identification.

Q: Is a passport my only other option if my state is not compliant?

No. TSA currently accepts several other forms of identity documents and will continue to do so. For more information on acceptable forms of identification for boarding aircraft, please see TSA’s website.

Q: What happens to travelers who show up without a compliant license? Will TSA turn them away?

DHS has been working with states for years around REAL ID compliance and has provided technical assistance, grants, and other support to them. The agency is also providing more than two years advance notice of implementation with respect to domestic air travel to allow ample time for all states to achieve compliance, or for potential air travelers to acquire an alternate form of ID if their state does not comply with REAL ID. 

Starting Jan. 22, 2018, travelers who do not have a license from a compliant state or a state that has been granted an extension (a complete list of non-compliant states/ territories can be found here) will be asked to provide alternate acceptable identification. If the traveler cannot provide an acceptable form of identification, they will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every traveler will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license or another acceptable form of identification for domestic air travel.

Q: Why are some states still not compliant? Isn’t this law?

REAL ID is a mandate on federal agencies, restricting the circumstances under which they may accept state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards for official purposes. Participation by states is voluntary, although federal agencies are prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states for official purposes (e.g., boarding aircraft, accessing federal facilities, and entering nuclear power plants).

Q: How does REAL ID implementation impact states that provide driver’s licenses and IDs to certain non-citizens/undocumented immigrants?

REAL ID allows compliant states to issue driver’s licenses and identification cards where the identity of the applicant cannot be assured or for whom lawful presence is not determined. In fact, some states currently issue such noncompliant cards to undocumented individuals. These cards must clearly state on their face (and in the machine-readable zone) that it is not acceptable for official purposes and must use a unique design or color to differentiate them from compliant cards. DHS cautions against assuming that possession of a noncompliant card indicates the holder is an undocumented individual, given that several states issue noncompliant licenses for reasons unrelated to lawful presence. 


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