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Hirono, Young Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Letter Urging DHS to Eliminate Unnecessary Barriers for FAS Citizens to Obtain REAL ID-Compliant Identification

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Last week, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), and ten of their colleagues sent a letter to Mark Koumans, the former Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Chad Wolf, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary at the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, to express their concern regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) recent guidance implementing the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act. The REAL ID Act established national standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, and prohibits federal agencies from accepting noncompliant IDs for official purposes.

Since states began issuing REAL ID compliant licenses, citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS) of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau residing in the U.S. have been limited to receiving one-year temporary drivers licenses and identification cards, forcing them to renew annually. The REAL ID Modification for Freely Associated States Act aimed to address this by ensuring that FAS citizens in the U.S. could receive full term REAL ID compliant identification documents.

However, the new DHS implementation guidance requires citizens of the Freely Associated States to provide an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in order to obtain REAL ID Act-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards.

As nonimmigrants who are free to live and work in the United States under Compacts of Free Association with their respective nations, FAS citizens generally do not need and as such do not have EADs. The EAD requirement has imposed serious hardships on FAS citizens and generated significant concerns from their governments, which are critical national security partners of the United States. Without access to REAL ID Act-compliant IDs, FAS citizens face challenges maintaining employment and accessing critical services.

This new EAD requirement contradicts the intent of the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act.

“In recognition of the United States’ special obligations to FAS citizens, Congress enacted the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act in 2018 to ensure that FAS citizens could obtain full-term REAL ID-compliant cards, which are critical for accessing important services and maintaining employment.  Our intent was to allow FAS citizens to obtain full-term REAL ID-compliant cards in accordance with the Compacts—by providing their passports and proof of admission into the United States (i.e., Form I-94). The law makes no reference to an EAD and simply requires FAS citizens to provide documentary evidence of their citizenship and admission to the United States ‘pursuant to a Compact of Free Association’ to establish lawful status. In passing this law, we sought to eliminate an unnecessary burden on FAS citizens of having to renew annually temporary driver’s licenses and ID cards,” the Members wrote in their letter.

The REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act, which unanimously passed the U.S. Senate and was supported by Senator Hirono, was signed into law in December 2018. In May, Senator Hirono sent a letter to Lee Francis Cissna, the previous Director of USCIS, and Mr. Wolf, and urged them to take immediate action after it was first reported FAS citizens were being denied access to REAL ID Act-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards under DHS’s guidance.

In addition to Senator Hirono and Rep. Young, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), as well as U.S. Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), and Steve Womack (R-Ark.) also signed onto the letter. Delegates Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), and Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (D-Guam), also joined their colleagues on the letter.

A full copy of Senator Hirono and Rep. Young’s letter to former Acting Director Koumans and Mr. Wolf is available here.