Immigration groups opposing proposed REAL ID compliance bill

Minnesota immigration groups are uniting to form opposition to a REAL ID compliance bill that is moving through the Capitol.

The state faces a January 22, 2018 deadline to become compliant and get a federal extension of REAL ID implementation laws. Without a law implementing REAL ID, Minnesota residents will no longer be able to use their driver’s license to board an airplane or gain access to certain federal buildings after that date.

“We really need to move upon this bill this session.” Rep. Dennis Smith said to the House Transportation Finance Committee on Tuesday

Rep. Smith’s bill, HF3, sets up both a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or ID, and a noncompliant version.

“This bill offers consumers in Minnesota a choice,” Smith said.

But, it’s the non-REAL ID compliant driver’s license that’s raising the concern of immigrants and many Democrats. That’s because the noncompliant license requires proof of citizenship. Current administrative rules adopted in 2003 during Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration require proof of citizenship to get a license.  Rep. Smith’s bill would codify it in state statute. 

“So, it is clear that we don’t need that language to get REAL ID passed in Minnesota.  And there’s bi-partisan support with that,” DFL Rep. Connie Bernardy said. “So, putting that language in there creates gridlock.”

John Keller of the Immigration Law Center said other states have created both a REAL ID compliant license and a noncompliant license that’s inclusive of immigrants. 

“In the last two to three years, 11 states have opted, most of them through the REAL ID statute at the federal level to create a compliant license for the undocumented, unauthorized immigrants in their state,” Keller said.

DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein of Minneapolis tried and failed to pass an amendment stripping the legislation of the citizenship clause for a noncompliant license.

“It is important to understand that we all pay a price when a certain portion of the population, our aspiring citizens are not taking proper driver education classes, are not obtaining licenses and are driving without insurance,” said Hornstein.

A combination of business groups and travel agents urged lawmakers to pass the REAL-ID compliance portion of the bill. Delta Airlines lobbyist Jeff Davidman said confusion among air travelers is only growing as the January 2018 deadline approaches. 

“We think customers will show up next year and not knowing about the deadline try and board and aircraft and only be told when they get to the airport they will not be able to do so and their journey will be delayed and our customers will become frustrated,” Davidman said. 

Gloria Stock-Mickelson of the American Society of Travel Agents told lawmakers that agents are already facing potentially lost business from customers. 

“Grandma and Grandpa want to take the family the Florida in June of 2018,” Stock-Mickelson explained.  “Only two of them are carrying US passports right now.  Do they book or do they not book?” 

The bill passed the House Transportation Finance Committee on a 12-11 vote.  It now moves the House Ways and Means Committee.