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Sensenbrenner: Administration’s Real ID Delay Leaves America Vulnerable

The law makes it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to alter their identities by counterfeiting documents

The Obama administration is ignoring the security risk of delaying Real ID implementation. In December, the administration announced that the Department of Homeland Security would indefinitely defer Real ID implementation, despite previous promises to Congress to meet the Jan. 15, 2013, deadline.

I am disappointed and extremely concerned that the administration will not be honoring the commitment DHS gave me and other members of the House Judiciary Committee. The decision is a dangerous reversal and betrayal.

On March 21, 2012, DHS Assistant Secretary David Heyman testified before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and assured Congress that DHS would not extend the Real ID deadline for states.

Several months later, the administration announced it would grant a “temporary deferment” to states that are not Real ID compliant. DHS will develop a schedule for implementation for some undefined date in the future —a schedule that will not even be released until fall of this year.

The administration is playing with fire.

The 9/11 commission provided a full report on gaps in our national security. The commission parsed no words, stating, “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil exposed weaknesses in our processes for issuing driver’s licenses and identification documents.

The report also noted that “fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft.” We now know that the 9/11 hijackers had at least 30 pieces of identification — most of which were fraudulently obtained by using loopholes in the system.

These pieces of identification enabled the 19 terrorists to move freely throughout the United States. With these IDs, terrorists took flying lessons, purchased airline tickets, rented cars and boarded airplanes — actions that enabled them to kill almost 3,000 innocent Americans.

As a result, the commission recommended implementing basic standards for driver’s licenses. This recommendation is particularly important because licenses act as “breeder documents” for other forms of ID and certifications.

After the 9/11 commission findings and recommendations were clear, Congress acted. Real ID passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate — including the vote of then-Sen. Barack Obama.

But since that time, the process has been slow. Every step of the way, the Obama administration has stonewalled implementation of this critical national security law. They have not given states necessary and timely guidance, encouraging states not to comply and causing delay after delay.

Real ID is not a national ID card. Instead, the law establishes minimum security standards for licenses and identification cards and requires states to verify that applicants at a DMV are who they say they are.

The law makes it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to alter their identities by counterfeiting documents, such as a birth certificate, or using a false Social Security number to legally obtain a valid ID.

For example, Ziad Jarrah, one of the terrorists responsible for the attack in Pennsylvania, was pulled over for speeding just two days before 9/11. He was able to hold multiple licenses and avoid detection. Instead of raising a red flag, all he got was a ticket.

The longer the administration delays compliance, the longer these weaknesses threaten our national security.

In 2011, the 10th Anniversary Report Card issued a harrowing warning that we cannot ignore: “The delay in compliance creates vulnerabilities and makes us less safe. No further delay should be authorized; rather, compliance should be accelerated.”

The administration’s deferment announcement claims that DHS will work with noncompliant states to fully implement Real ID. But, if history is any indication, I am not holding my breath. This is the fourth time DHS delayed implementation of something the 9/11 commission said was critical to preventing another terrorist attack.

The Real ID Act was born out of recommendations by the 9/11 commission as a necessary component to keeping America safe. The 10th Anniversary Report Card reaffirmed the need for minimum standards for identification. It is long past time for the administration to implement the law and close this critical national security vulnerability.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and current chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

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