Column: Real ID is not a driving rights issue

A couple weeks ago I couldn’t help but wonder how peculiar a trip through airport security has become. Do the shoes stay on or off? Does that laptop need a separate bin before going through the scanner and does it need to come out of the traveling case?

My personal routine goes something like this. When I’m within two people of the security checkpoint where boarding ticket and driver’s license are required, I’ve already secured those in my right hand, loosened my shoestrings so I can slip off my shoes, and my belt is in my left hand, dangling like a limp snake next to my jeans. Said jeans are already engaged in a slow slide, making me feel like a teen at the mall who wants everybody to notice their Hilfiger underwear label and the rhythmic penguin waddle that’s keeping those pants from strangling their ankles.

Most travelers experience some level of anxiety at the ID security checkpoint regardless of age, gender, creed or color. Of course all of this commotion is occurring with a bursting build-up of travelers to the rear still clogged in the winding cattle corral, about half of whom seem fidgety and desperate to get through to the other side where lattes, duty free chocolates and $4 bottles of water beckon.

With a bow-legged move forward (gotta keep those pants up) it’s still a mystery what is and isn’t required at this point because the rules seem to keep changing and each airport apparently enforces at varying levels. Watch stays on or off? Zip up sweatshirt on or off? Is the car seat that’s being dragged like a sled a carry-on or does it need to get checked with standard luggage? Bin or no bin? Pat down or no pat down?

With a look over the shoulder, pants still migrating south, the urgency of getting all of this stuff through the conveyor feels a lot like a trip through a Target checkout when one product label isn’t scanning properly and the rapid check through has ground to a halt. Everyone is eyeballing you as if it’s your fault that you didn’t possess the ability to choose a product with a clean bar code. Yikes.

Welcome to airport travel in 2017.

Of course, you may have a more substantial worry if state legislators don’t find a solution to getting the federal Real ID law approved this session. Your existing driver’s license won’t work as an acceptable form of identification at airports in the U.S. starting Jan. 22, 2018.

It’s a scenario being set up by state legislators who thus far have resisted pressure from the federal government to adopt the Real ID law. But if Minnesota does not take steps to adopt the law soon, your ability to board that plane will require that you have a valid U.S. Passport or pay for the upgraded identification on your driver’s license.

But here’s the troubling aspect to this issue. The debate in both the House and Senate has expanded beyond Real ID to include discussion about driving rights for undocumented residents. That is causing several legislators to vote against the measure on that principle alone.

Real ID had its birth after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States as a way of providing more accurate and stringent proof of residency, designed to reduce the threat of terrorism. Most states begrudgingly complied with the federal law after it was introduced in 2005, but not Minnesota.

Opponents have said all along they don’t like the idea of Minnesotans’ private information being shared in a database that other state officials would have access to. With all the data breaches that are reported on a regular basis, it seems almost inevitable that somebody will hack this information at some point, potentially gaining access to virtually every registered adult citizen of the U.S. It’s hard to argue against that concern.

Second, although the federal government has mandated this change, individual states will likely bear the cost for implementation. You know what that means.

Minnesota legislators are debating the issue again in this session. But a new wrinkle was added when the governor encouraged DFLers to oppose the bill if it didn’t include language to allow undocumented residents the opportunity to get a driver’s license. That’s a real head scratcher. On the one hand, proponents have suggested getting undocumented residents to take a driving exam would serve to make our roads safer, thus protecting more Minnesotans when we get behind the wheel. It would also serve as a possible avenue to citizenship for those undocumented folks who will recognize that part of being a good citizen is following the laws that have been established here.

But there is one fundamental hurdle that must be reconciled if we were to allow that to happen: How do you legally offer the opportunity for a driver’s license to those who would not otherwise be eligible to receive one?

The privacy aspects of Real ID are profound enough that the debate about it should be allowed to occur without attaching any confusing undocumented resident licensing questions. That is a separate issue that deserves a separate discussion, especially since there are roughly 100,000 undocumented residents living in Minnesota as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. They represent 2.7 percent of our workforce and 3.8 percent of our K-12 student population. They are part of our communities.

But linking these two issues is not good for Minnesota and it’s not fair to those who are currently going through the process of seeking legal citizenship. Becoming a citizen of the United States is a privilege, not a right. Gaining a driver’s license is one of those privileges.

A major component of Real ID is to verify legitimate traveling residents of this country. If legislators could stick to the basics, getting on that plane may be as simple as waddling through the security checkpoint and wondering what gets scanned and what doesn’t.

Keith Anderson is director of news for ECM and can be contacted at [email protected]