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California DMV gave incorrect Real ID to an immigrant with temporary legal status

What is REAL ID?

Starting Jan. 22, Californians need to apply for a new, federally-approved driver's license or ID before the old ones become invalid for air travel.
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Starting Jan. 22, Californians need to apply for a new, federally-approved driver's license or ID before the old ones become invalid for air travel.

An immigrant with temporary legal status in California has received an incorrect Real ID from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, raising concerns about the department’s ability to process the enhanced identification cards.

Documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee show the individual received the card with an expiration date that would have allowed the person to stay in the United States four years beyond the immigrant’s legal residency.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the individual was a DACA recipient – someone who was unlawfully brought into the United States as a child and given legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

When the “Dreamer” contacted the DMV, the immigrant was directed to discard the license and wait for a new one in the mail with an updated expiration date, according to the person familiar with the matter.

The DMV does not track the number of driver licenses given to DACA recipients, so it doesn’t know how many immigrants with temporary legal status might have received incorrect Real IDs.

“There is no way to know how many DACA recipients have driver licenses because the DMV does not differentiate driver license holders by the legal presence documents that are presented,” the department said in a statement.

Congress passed the Real ID law in 2005 as a security precaution after 9/11. The card allows legal U.S. residents to board airplanes and enter other federal facilities, such as military bases, without a passport.

But California has struggled to implement the program since launching it last year. For instance, the department’s initial process for administering Real IDs did not comply with Homeland Security standards and the DMV must contact 3.6 million residents to correct its mistake.

While DACA recipients can lawfully obtain Real ID cards, they are only supposed to be issued them until their legal status expires, according to federal Department of Homeland Security guidelines. If Dreamers don’t spot the error on their driver’s licenses, it’s unclear what could happen to their immigration status.

The DMV relies on DACA recipients to bring the issue to the department’s attention if the expiration date on their driver’s license doesn’t match the expiration date on their Immigration and Naturalization Service documents, a source with knowledge of the problem said.

Layla Razavi, policy director for the California Immigrant Policy Center, said in a statement that she believes the problem of mismatched expiration dates “is rare,” but a person close to the matter believes there is a systemic problem of the DMV issuing faulty licenses to DACA recipients. Razavi urges people who find themselves in that position to contact the DMV immediately.

A DHS official said the agency will look into California issuing inaccurate IDs to Dreamers. “It is our policy to review any Real ID compliance complaints/allegations promptly and take whatever action may be appropriate.”

The DMV said it verifies information about DACA recipients with Homeland Security.

“When Californians with limited-term legal presence apply for a driver license, the DMV verifies that information with the federal government,” the DMV said in a statement. “When DHS verifies the documents, it also updates the DMV system of when those documents expire, and a card is issued with that expiration date. It’s an automated process.”

The DMV also noted that undocumented immigrants cannot apply for a Real ID card.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is asking state lawmakers to boost the DMV’s budget by $163 million to address a number of issues, including issuing Real ID cards. Californians will need identification cards by Oct. 1, 2020 to board a plane without a passport.

The DMV has specifically requested nearly $10 million for a marketing campaign aimed at educating customers about documents needed for a Real ID card and alternatives to visiting a field office when renewing a driver license.

Next month, lawmakers will vote on a budget increase and consider a bipartisan audit request that would, in part, “identify and evaluate the challenges the DMV is facing in regard to Real IDs.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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