As proof that "politicians are finally feeling the heat on the illegal [immigrant] issue," Fox News host Bill O'Reilly misleadingly claimed that the "the Real ID Act passed 100-0 in the Senate." In fact, the Senate never held a vote specifically on "the Real ID Act," which requires states to verify that an applicant is a legal resident of the United States before issuing the applicant a driver's license. Rather, the legislation was attached to the emergency supplemental appropriation bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only way to vote against the ID measure would have been to vote against the entire funding bill.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) originally introduced the bill as part of the House's intelligence community reform package in late 2004. When opposition to the provisions in the Senate threatened to kill that bill, the provisions were dropped, but the House leadership agreed to reattach them "to the first piece of legislation this session that both chambers were expected to pass" [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/05]. The Real ID Act was reintroduced in 2005 and passed the House, but apparently recognizing that the stand-alone bill lacked support in the Senate, the House leadership attached the legislation to the House version of the emergency funding bill. The Senate version did not include the measure. With bipartisan support, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment expressing the sense of the Senate that the provisions should not be in the final bill, but the amendment was ruled "non-germane" and denied a voted. Most of the Real ID provisions in the House's version survived the House-Senate conference committee and were part of the conference report that passed the House and Senate.
During the Senate debate on the final version of the bill, several senators voiced opposition to the inclusion of the Real ID provisions in the conference report, but this opposition was not reflected in the final vote of 100-0. Here are some excerpts from the debate:
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN): "That does not stop me from objecting and expressing my disappointment to two provisions in the bill. One is the so-called Real ID Act. Actually, unlike a lot of legislation we pass here, this is well named. This really is a national identification card for the United States of America for the first time in our history. We have never done this before, and we should not be doing it without a full debate. This Real ID provision turns 190 million driver's licenses, which are now ineffective ID cards, into more effective national identification cards. To add insult to injury, we have also slapped state governments with the bill for them. I strongly object to this. When I was governor of Tennessee, I vetoed our state ID card twice because I thought it was an infringement on civil liberties. I thought that driver's licenses are for driving. If we need an ID card, we should have an ID card."
- Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI): There are many concerns I have with Real ID in addition to the process used to bring it to the floor. First, the measure is an unfunded mandate to the states. Furthermore, unless every state complies, the federal government will have to mandate the creation of a national ID. Between the creation of a new database and approval system, training for DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] workers, and struggling state budgets, Real ID will impose real costs. More importantly, a database of this type will open up many privacy concerns and there must be security safeguards in place to prevent the gathered information from being obtained inappropriately. Many states, including Rhode Island, have already passed legislation setting their own requirements for driver's license recipients. The federal government should not impinge upon the states' ability to decide who can and cannot drive on their roads, especially without the funding to support the idea. Real ID will put more drivers on the road without licenses and without insurance."
- Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV): "Mr. President, there were some problems in conference, most notably the recessing at the call of the chair and not returning, which left some of our members unable to offer motions. During the recess, 55 pages of modified Real ID immigration legislation were inserted into the conference report, sight unseen, by the conferees. Now, can you imagine that? That would not have happened when I was chairman of the Appropriations Committee. That would not have happened when I was majority leader of the Senate. I will tell you, I don't blame our chairman or any committee members for this situation, but I do acknowledge that there were problems."
- Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's (D-CT) floor statement: "I do want to note, however, my strong objections to House provisions known as the Real ID Act that have been included in the conference report. The Real ID Act will repeal ID security provisions enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support last year at the urging of the 9/11 Commission and place them with rigid and unworkable federal mandates on state government for the issuance of driver's licenses, long exclusively a matter of state law."
- Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI): "My vote in support of this conference report also comes with serious reservations because it contains the extremely troublesome immigration and driver's license provisions of the Real ID Act, which the House passed as an amendment to this bill. I strongly support efforts to curb illegal immigration and to prevent terrorists from entering our country to do harm. But as we work to secure our borders and protect our nation from future terrorist attacks, we must also respect the need for refugees, foreign workers, family members, students, businesspeople, visitors, and others who wish to come to our nation legally. The Real ID Act is a big step in the wrong direction. The new restrictions on immigration in the Real ID Act are not necessary to protect national security. Rather, they will only serve to create serious and unjustified hardships for people fleeing persecution and for other non-citizens."
From the May 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: But in Washington, the politicians are finally feeling the heat on the illegal issue, as the Real ID Act passed 100-0 in the Senate. The president will sign it into law shortly. Real ID would require all states to see the birth certificates of anyone applying for driver's licenses. The intent is to keep licenses out of the hands of illegals.