Public education efforts underway to comply with federal ID law

WA Governor’s Office
Feb 18 · 6 min read
Federal changes to identification credentials for air travel could impact Washington travelers without the needed identification documents. (Photo: Department of Licensing)

Does your Washington state driver’s license meet new federal REAL ID requirements? If not, you may be left at the airport the next time you try to board a flight.

The federal REAL ID program requires travelers to show certain identification cards. State licensing offices can issue the identification cards that meet certain security standards –standards that were not previously part of the licensing process.

We sat down with Department of Licensing Director Teresa Berntsen and later with Rich Stolz, executive director of OneAmerica, for a Q&A to clarify upcoming ID regulations at airports. These regulations go into effect Oct. 1.

Department of Licensing Director Teresa Berntsen

Q: What is the most important thing you want travelers to know about travel changes?

A: After Oct. 1, you won’t be able to use a standard Washington driver’s license or ID card to board a domestic flight. You have options, such as the Enhanced Driver’s License or ID card, a passport, a passport card, Green card, military ID card. But it will change the way we travel domestically.

Q: What’s the difference between an Enhanced Driver’s License and a regular driver’s license?

A: An Enhanced Driver’s License or ID card allows you to travel to Mexico or Canada, by land or by sea, without your passport. The document is also REAL ID compliant. So, after Oct. 1, that document will allow you to board a domestic flight.

Q: In terms of look, how is the enhanced driver’s license different?

A: The distinguishing characteristic between an enhanced driver’s license and a regular driver’s license is that the enhanced license has an American flag on it.

Q: What is that REAL ID act all about, anyway?

A: In 2005, Congress enacted the REAL ID Act. So, it was a response to findings from the 9/11 Commission. Part of the act requires state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards to meet certain requirements if travelers use them to board a domestic flight or enter a restricted federal facility after a certain enforcement date — which we now know is Oct. 1, 2020. Those standards range from security features of the document to requiring a mark on it to distinguish it from a non-compliant document.

In Washington, our REAL ID compliant documents is the Enhanced Driver’s License or ID card. You have to be a U.S. citizen to get an enhanced document, but there are other options for documents you can carry to board a domestic flight after October.

Q: There’s a lot of fear around that at the moment. Where’s our balance here with complying with that and helping communities?

A: It’s an important question. We’re all about the options.

You have to be a U.S. citizen to get an Enhanced Driver’s License or ID Card. About 15% of Washington residents are not U.S. citizens. One of the requirements of the REAL ID Act is that all non-compliant documents, meaning our standard driver’s license or ID card, have to have certain words on them to indicate they’re not compliant. In Washington, those words are, “Federal limits apply.”

It does not relate to one’s citizenship status. It simply indicates a traveler cannot use the document to board a domestic flight or enter a restricted federal facility after Oct. 1.

An Enhanced Driver’s License or ID card are not your only options. Documents like a U.S. or foreign passport, passport card, green card, all work.

Q: What other options can anyone use to fly if they don’t have that enhanced driver’s license or want to get one?

A: You may already be prepared. After Oct. 1, there are many documents you can use to board a domestic flight. If you go to TSA’s website right now to board an international flight, it’s the same list. It could be your passport, a passport card, a green card — there are several options. People need to evaluate their options and see if they are already prepared. And if you want to get an Enhanced Driver’s License or ID card, we’re encouraging people to go in now and beat the rush.

Q: What is the current Transportation Security Administration message that we’re hearing and how you would you like to clarify it?

A: TSA has recently put up signage and directed TSA to engage in conversations with passengers about REAL ID. Some of the concerns we’re hearing from passengers is that TSA is indicating people have to get a REAL ID compliant document with a star on it. That’s problematic.

One, people have options, and they don’t necessarily need a state-issued REAL ID compliant document. The other problem is that our compliant documents, the Enhanced Driver’s License and ID card, have an American flag, not a star. So we’re working as closely as we can with the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, airports, and airlines to make sure that people understand their options.

Q: What resources has your agency recently put out for the public to navigate this change?

A: Since 2018, we’ve engaged in a pretty extensive campaign and we call it ID 2020 WA. We use radio, TV, social media, and media designed for multicultural audiences. Our outreach staff attend community events and partner with organizations to get the word out. We have a website that has information and videos to walk you through your options or find out if you’re already prepared. We have notices on our renewal notices for your driver’s licenses and for your vehicle registration. And we have signage in and around the airports.

The emphasis of our campaign is that you have options. So, for example, I have a passport and a passport card. I’m already prepared. I could choose to go in and get an Enhanced Driver’s License if I wanted to. But I don’t have to. What I’ve decided to do is keep my passport card in my wallet so I can travel easily after Oct. 1.

Rich Stolz, executive director of OneAmerica

Q: Do you feel that communities know the key points of the REAL ID implementation in 2020?

A: There’s growing awareness, but there are a lot of gaps in knowledge, particularly with folks in immigrant and refugee communities that are also seeing many news reports on changes to immigration policy. That is sort of the rub, where despite our best efforts and DOL’s efforts, there’s still a lot of fear and concern about what the REAL ID implementation means for themselves, their families, and their ability to travel.

Q: How has DOL worked with communities to share this information?

A: DOL has reached a broad audience. And there’s still more to be done to reach more targeted audiences, particular in immigrant and refugee communities. They’re on the right track given their partnerships with a number of community organizations such as OneAmerica, where we are also helping with trainings in immigrant communities. But it’s a challenge. There are still a lot of people we need to reach.

Q: What are some of the next steps as we approach Oct. 1?

A: I think from a policy and implementation context, we know what we need to do. And I’m not sure what will change given the position of the federal government. What is left to be done is concerted effort to make sure folks understand what REAL ID implementation is, and that we somehow make it less scary — although that’s hard to do given everything else happening right now. We also need to make sure folks understand they have concrete steps they can take, whether it’s continue with a standard license or if they can pursue an Enhanced Driver’s License. The trick is making sure people know what their options are.

DOL is making sure they are utilizing community-based organizations and ethnic media to get the word out about options people have. There is work they’re doing already to monitor what other agencies — such as TSA — is saying about REAL ID. It feels like TSA has been responsible for some misinformation at the airport, which has caused us some consternation. But this really is an all-out community education effort. And, at the same time, there are many of these efforts underway because of the shifting ground in immigration policy every day.

You can find more information on the Real ID law and learn about your options on DOL’s ID2020 website.

Washington State Governor's Office

News and updates from Washington state Gov.

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