Signs went up two months ago near the security queues at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport advising travelers that starting next January, Minnesota driver’s licenses won’t suffice as proof of identification for boarding a commercial aircraft.
We hoped those notices — and the response they generated — would finally get state lawmakers to focus on the need to act on Real ID, bringing state driver’s licenses into compliance with standards for their issuance set by Congress in 2005. Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature must give a green light to Real ID this year if air travelers are to be spared the need to carry a passport or other federally issued form of identification after Jan. 22, 2018. Already, Minnesotans must show more than their state driver’s licenses to be admitted to secure federal facilities.
Real ID bills are indeed moving at the Legislature. The Senate has its version on Monday’s docket; the House’s bill has been approved and is ready to meet the Senate’s in conference committee. But those bills have become entangled with what ought to be a separate issue — whether Minnesota should issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Those issues should be parted — the sooner the better. Minnesota is home to the 16th busiest airport in the country, a major economic asset for a multistate region. This state ought not risk disrupting the traveling public because of a partisan tiff over immigration. While this newspaper has long favored issuing driver’s licenses to all who operate vehicles on public roads, we think that policy should be addressed on its own merits, apart from Real ID.
Legislators in both parties have given lip service to a desire for a “clean” Real ID bill. But the GOP-backed House version of the bill includes language that would set in statute barring licenses for people who are neither U.S. citizens nor legal immigrants. (That bar exists as an administrative rule today.) The Senate’s version, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, disallows using Real ID rule making to open the door for licenses for undocumented drivers.
The DFL governor said last week that he wants just the opposite. He asked Senate DFLers — a few of whose votes will be needed to pass a bill — to press to add to the bill explicit permission for the state to issue driver’s licenses to all who meet age, residency and proficiency requirements, regardless of their citizenship status.
Dayton’s message may have been a negotiating ploy — a possibility made plausible by the fact that he did not threaten to veto a bill that does not allow driver’s licenses for all. But the longer lawmakers spend arguing about immigrant licensure, the more they invite the impression that this state does not take the Real ID imperative seriously and does not value the Twin Cities airport’s status as a major airline’s hub.
If legislators want to dispel that idea, they’ll remove all references to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants from the Real ID bills. That’s the option that was offered without success on the House floor by Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. We hope that version fares better as an amendment in the Senate on Monday and wins support from a conference committee. If a truly “clean” Real ID bill emerges, Dayton should not hesitate to sign it.