The Real ID Act — A New Attack on Immigrant Rights


In May, Congress approved an emergency military spending bill that earmarked another $82 billion for the Iraq war. But this huge waste of workers’ tax money to extend the war in Iraq was not the only thing wrong with May’s emergency military spending bill. Tacked on to the bill was a measure called the Real ID Act that established new rules for state-issued drivers’ licenses.

Like a lot of other things that the government wants to do, the Real ID Act was justified as a necessary part of Bush’s “War on Terror.” However, if it is implemented as planned, it will make it harder for undocumented workers to drive, fly, work, and live in the U.S.

The Real ID Act states that, starting in three years, anyone living or working in the U.S. will need a federally-approved ID card to fly, collect Social Security, open a bank account, or use nearly any government service. This new law is going to make state-issued drivers’ licenses and state IDs function even more like a national ID card. Standards for state-issued drivers’ licenses will be changed so that ID cards will have a “common machine-readable technology” determined by the Homeland Security Department.

Governmental harassment of undocumented workers, and immigrants in general, has increased sharply since 9/11. If enacted, the new regulations will force states to check harder to see whether people applying for a driver’s license have papers.

Millions of undocumented workers need to be able to drive in order to do their jobs. If the Real ID Act is implemented, it will not stop undocumented workers from having to drive to work to be able to feed their families – they simply won’t be able to get licenses or insurance.

Some on the right may fantasize about deporting all undocumented workers, but U.S. capitalism is far too dependent on the labor of these super-exploited workers to do that. Instead, its aim is to keep undocumented workers and their families permanently insecure, terrorized, and unable to enter the mainstream of society. Some states, particularly those with large immigrant populations, recognize that carrying through the Real ID Act would be highly impractical and create chaos, and they are likely to try to resist it. Soon after the passage of the Real ID Act, for example, a state judge in New York ruled that the state DMV might not deny licenses to people even if they cannot prove citizenship.

Employers’ ability to hire immigrants at lower wages not only keeps many immigrants in poverty, but it also allows bosses to lower the wages and benefits of the entire workforce. In this context, the reversal in 2000 of the AFL-CIO’s previously anti-immigrant position and the labor leadership’s endorsement of the demand for a “general amnesty for all undocumented immigrants” was an important step forward for immigrants and all workers.

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride that was initiated two years ago by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union also provided a small demonstration of the potential organized strength of the immigrant workforce. It organized protests all over the country, culminating in an impressive demonstration of 100,000 people in New York City.

In order to survive and grow, the labor movement and others fighting against the Bush agenda and big business will need to take up the demand for organizing the growing ranks of the immigrant workforce, and resist the Real ID Act and any other attacks on immigrants.