Este informe no está disponible en español.


Federal government enacts law requiring national IDs

States and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, will be required to issue federally approved national ID cards by 2008


May 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

National identification (ID) cards are on the way. Starting in 2008, if you live or work in the U.S., or any U.S. territory, including Puerto Rico, you will be required to carry a federally approved national ID card. That is, U.S. citizens will need the national ID to travel on an airplane, open a bank account, collect Social Security payments, or take advantage of nearly any government service.

In February, Congress approved a Republican-backed measure compelling states and U.S. territories to issue ID cards and passports with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in them by no later than 2008. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an $82 billion military spending bill that will, in part, create federally approved ID cards for all U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

"All states and U.S. possessions, including Puerto Rico, will have to comply with the national ID card requirement. If you want to get into a federal building, on a train or airplane, or even receive your Social Security check, you will need this identification," explained Eduardo Bhatia, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

The authorizing language requires all states and U.S. possessions to enhance their driver’s license program. It will require the Commonwealth digitalize all drivers’ licenses with readable media and a digital photo. "Additionally, and this is the part of greatest contention among the states, all applicants’ immigration status must be verified," Bhatia said.

The authorizing legislation requires several changes to the existing system for the issuance of drivers’ licenses, including the digitalization of the actual license with readable media and a digital photo. The legislation also requires additional clearances for issuing agents and extra security requirements for issuing locations.

According to the bill, no funds are allocated to states or possessions to implement the necessary technology and equipment to issue the new identification cards. However, the authorizing language allows for a grant appropriation to states for the implementation of these provisions. The secretary of Homeland Security will determine these grants.

Those who don’t carry valid licenses will need to get the national ID card. Every U.S. citizen or U.S. resident will be required to have a uniform national ID.

Critics of this measure argue the Real ID Act gives the Department of Homeland Security unfettered authority to design and issue state ID cards and drivers’ licenses, may also hinder religious freedom, and will create a national database. Supporters of the measure, however, state the need for a national database, uniform security measures to diminish fraud, and a system for immigration checks.

National ID likely to replace state-issued driver’s license

Although still being discussed, Department of Homeland Security sources expressed the possibility for "biometric information such as retinal scans, fingerprints, DNA data, and RFID tracking technology." At a minimum, national ID cards will include a person’s full name, birth date, gender, ID number, digital photograph, address, machine-readable technology, person’s signature, and physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication of documents for fraudulent purposes.

"States and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, must require and verify the following before issuing a driver’s license or ID card: a photo identity document for all applicants [a nonphoto identity document is acceptable if it includes both the person’s full legal name and date of birth], documentation showing the applicant’s date of birth, proof and verification of the applicant’s social security account number, and documentation showing the applicant’s name and address of principal residence," explained Bhatia.

The bill also establishes the new driver’s license, or national ID card, will include a data chip with evidence of an applicant’s lawful status. For immigrants temporarily residing in the U.S., the ID must clearly indicate it is temporary and can be renewed only with documentation verifying the residency status has been extended by the secretary of Homeland Security.

States also will be required to subject employees working with or producing drivers’ licenses and ID cards to a security clearance, establish fraudulent-document-recognition training programs, and provide electronic access to information contained in the motor vehicle database of other states. The drivers’ licenses will be valid for eight years.

"People will get an ID through the state motor vehicle agency, and it most likely will take the place of a driver’s license; the identification process will be very rigorous," stated House Judiciary Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.). "This bill adheres to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and it is needed to hamper the ability of criminal aliens to move freely throughout our society," he pointed out.

National ID cards are nothing new. "Many European countries, such as Spain and France, as well as many Asian countries, require their citizens to carry such documents at all times, with legal punishments in place for those caught without them," said Sensenbrenner. Yet, countries with similar English common-law legal systems, such as Australia and New Zealand, have rejected such national IDs.

As far back as July 2002, the Bush administration has been talking about creating measures to curtail abuse in drivers’ licenses. Plans to embed RFID chips in all U.S. passports and foreign visitors’ documents are underway.

By Sept. 11, all states and Puerto Rico will have to file a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. This MOU mandates all states and U.S. territories verify the immigration status of everyone soliciting a driver’s license.

On May 14, President George W. Bush signed the National ID bill into law. Although in less than three years Puerto Rico residents will be required to carry a national ID, there has been no word from the Acevedo Vilá administration regarding either the impact of this new federal law on the island or when the local government will begin implementing the technology required for the drivers’ licenses on the island.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
For further information, please contact:



Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback