Apr. 27, 2005 – A federal bill that would prohibit undocumented immigrants from obtaining driverâ€™s licenses, make it more difficult for people fleeing political persecution to gain asylum in the US, and grant the Homeland Security Department wide latitude to disregard environmental regulations in "securing" the southern border is close to becoming law.
The REAL ID Act was approved as an attachment to the US House of Representatives version of a supplemental funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate, however, did not include the provision in its version of the legislation, so the Act is up for negotiation as the two chambers reconcile the differences between their respectively approved versions of the package.
Immigrant rights groups as well as environmentalists have lobbied hard against the bill, which is ostensibly written to prevent terrorist attacks by making it more difficult for would-be terrorists to enter and move around the country. But opponents of the legislation say the real impact of the bill will be felt by undocumented immigrant communities already in the United States who, unable to drive legally, will be forced to choose between driving without a license or losing their jobs.
Environmentalists also fear that the bill, which grants broad discretion to the Homeland Security Secretary to "waive" all laws he "determines necessary" to ensure construction of a security fence along the US-Mexico border, will endanger protected areas and species in the route of the proposed barrier. The law also strips power from all courts to hear any cases regarding the Secretaryâ€™s decision.