OLYMPIA – The federal government on Friday granted Washington state a temporary extension from the enforcement of federal requirements for state driver’s licenses and ID cards that require proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use them to access certain areas of federal buildings and eventually board a commercial flight.
The letter from the Department of Homeland Security, obtained by the Associated Press, said the extension will run through Oct. 10.
The department said that throughout the extension, federal agencies can continue to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by Washington for official purposes.
The federal REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, requires proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of lawful status in the U.S. in order for a license to be valid for federal use.
The law has had several implementation delays but access to some federal facilities is now restricted without an enhanced ID. As early as next year, such ID could be required to board commercial aircraft, though the federal government hasn’t given a firm timeline on access to flights.
Washington state already offers enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.
However, only a fraction of people in the state have those licenses. As of December, more than 460,000 Washington residents have gotten an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced ID card. There are about 5.4 million people with standard licenses, and an additional 625,000 with regular ID cards.
State officials have proposed a plan to the Legislature that would create a two-tiered licensing system that would keep the current enhanced license and would create a standard state license that would indicate it is not valid for federal purposes.
Tony Sermonti, legislative director for the state Department of Licensing, noted that federal officials granted the extension Friday in large part because of the proposal pending in the Legislature. He said the state will need to apply for another extension later this year in advance of additional federal enforcement deadlines.
“The action that is taken or not taken this session will have significant bearing on the conversations with Homeland Security later this year when we need to renew the extension,” he said.
A bill detailing the plan has not yet been introduced in the House and Senate, and the lawmakers who head the transportation committees in each chamber haven’t publicly taken a position on the proposal.
A work session on the issue has been scheduled for Monday before the Senate Transportation Committee.
Under the proposal, Washington residents – regardless of legal status – wouldn’t be required to get the enhanced licenses. However, those who don’t might eventually need a passport or have to go through other screening processes in order to travel domestically or enter federal buildings.
More than two dozen states and territories haven’t fulfilled the national ID law’s mandates. Until Friday, Washington was one of only nine states that hadn’t received a compliance extension from the federal government.
Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a state license or ID. Other states give restricted licenses to people who can’t prove they are in the U.S. legally.
Advocacy groups and others have expressed concerns over forcing both immigrants in the country illegally and those in the country legally but not U.S. citizens, to have a marked license.
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