The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress in May of 2005 without a single hearing in the Senate. Although the law is theoretically supposed to increase the integrity of our nation’s identification cards, it really amounts to yet another power grab by arrogant politicians in Washington.

This new federal mandate – if implemented – will cost New Mexico taxpayers $43 million and place a heavy enforcement burden on small business. During the upcoming legislative session, New Mexico lawmakers will be faced with the decision to either go sheepishly along with outrageous Congressional demands or instead stand up for New Mexicans and New Mexico businesses by rejecting this costly mandate.

So, what would REAL ID actually do?

  •  If New Mexico chooses to implement REAL ID, the state’s Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) will need to verify the “issuance, validity and completeness” of every document presented to them;
  •  MVD would be expected to copy, and store both in paper and electronic form documents such as the birth certificates and Social Security cards and to keep those records for up to 10 years;
  • New Mexico would automatically take part in a shared database making each person’s information available to all states, the federal government as well as the Canadian and Mexican governments;
  • A “machine readable zone” that will allow for easy capture of personal data by anyone with the appropriate reading mechanism would be added to your drivers’ license.

It is hard to believe that New Mexicans would want to put nearly all of their personal information and the responsibility for protecting that it in the hands of a government agency that is not even set up for that purpose. That is exactly what would happen under REAL ID implementation.

The potential for mismanagement of personal information was made clear last year when, in the hunt for alleged cop-killer Michael Astorga, it was discovered that MVD employees were providing Astorga with driver’s licenses in other people’s names

While leaving identification efforts open to abuses, the law makes obtaining licenses more difficult for law-abiding citizens. Gone will be the days when you can apply for a license and receive it in the same day. Since the law requires those without an official government document verifying their address to attain alternative verification, businesses (most especially utility companies) will face increasing burdens under the new law.

In addition to implementation costs, New Mexicans could wind up paying close to $100 for their ID’s – six times more than the $16 they pay now – if the Legislature goes along with Congress’s wishes. It is unclear exactly how much the additional paperwork and bureaucratic hassle will cost businesses, but given the requirements of the new law, those costs may be quite high.

So what are taxpayers getting for their money? Even if REAL ID improves our ability to identify people, discerning their intentions is another problem entirely. Worse, once the system is fooled or identities are stolen, centralized databases will allow for even greater mischief than under the current system.

Time and again, for example, the ability of government officials to accurately separate friend from foe has been called into question. The so-called “No Fly List,” which has been used to stop potential terrorists, has led to confusion and problems for some travelers. The wife of Senator Ted Stevens – whose name “Catharine” is similar to that of blacklisted singer “Cat Stevens” – is just one of thousands of innocent people to face repeated problems. Will the bureaucrats at New Mexico’s MVD be any better than those working for the federal government?

If the outrageous cost and the vast potential for mischief associated with REAL ID implementation are not enough, principle alone should convince policy makers to reject REAL ID. For too long, New Mexico and other states have allowed the federal government to badger them into bad policy making with an array of big sticks and carrots. Telling states how to run their driver registration systems is not Congress’s job.

It is time for New Mexicans to stand up for the Constitution and our state’s autonomy when Congress oversteps its authority. Say “No” to REAL ID.”

Paul Gessing is the president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

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