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New Law to Curb Ability of Illegal Immigrants to Get US ID Cards

The United States is about to make it more difficult for people to get a driver's license. The Real I.D. act would standardize license requirements nationwide - forcing all 50 states to verify that each applicant is in the country legally. Some say the bill, passed by Congress this week, is the first step toward establishing a U.S. national ID card.

For almost a century, each U.S. state has been responsible for issuing its own driver's licenses. There has been no national standard.

Eleven states currently grant licenses to non-citizens. A license can be used to do many things in the United States from boarding a plane to opening a bank account.

Homeland security expert Alane Kochems of the Heritage Foundation says it's been quite easy to get a license.

"You can pretty much just show up and say, 'Hi. I would like identification. I'd like an ID'," says Ms. Kochems.

All but one of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks had some form of U.S. identification. Much of it was fraudulent. To avoid that happening again, the 9-11 commission recommended that the federal government set standards for driver's licenses.

The Real ID act will require at least four forms of identification for a driver to get a license. And all of a driver's information will be entered into state databases that are linked nationwide.

The author of the law, Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, says Real ID will make Americans safer. "These provisions will hamper the ability of terrorists and criminal aliens to move freely through our society," he said.

However, security experts say well financed terrorists will probably still be able to buy fake I.D.'s on the black market. Tim Sparapani of the American Civil Liberties Union says the new law provides the illusion of greater security.

"We're going to be in a situation where for the first time each American is going to have all of their most sensitive personal information in one database.// And any sophisticated criminal, terrorist or identity thief who wants to hack in and steal somebody's identity will be able to do it in one place," says Mr. Sparapani.

There is also concern that Real ID may become a national identification card, which many Americans have opposed.

"It really does create the backbone for the first time of national identification card, just one swipe of a card and people will be able to be tracked from state to state," says Mr. Sparapani.

"That's a completely inaccurate isn't the basis for a national ID. It's basically the federal government is giving states minimum guidance on what the federal government wants in an identification form," according to Ms. Kochems.

Mr. Sparapani says supporters of Real I.D. are trying to reduce the number of people entering the United States. "This is sold as an anti-terror measure, but it really is an anti-immigrant measurem," he said.

"It's not anti-immigration in any sense, because anyone who is here legally, who has a good reason for being here and is here lawfully can get identification. This is really only targeting those people who don't belong in the country and who are here illegally," adds Ms. Kochems.

Mr. Sparapani says the new I.D. will not stop people from coming to the United States illegally - they simply won't register with the department of motor vehicles. He says, "We're going to have some nameless, faceless, families living in our country."

Some states have said that they may disobey the Real ID act. But, federal legislation says the 50 states must implement all of the Real I.D. provisions within three years. If they don't that state's citizens may not be able to fly, take an interstate train or enter a federal building.