By on March 26, 2020

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced that the Real ID deadline — which had previously been delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak — has been pushed back until October 21st, 2021, as directed by President Trump.

Enacted in May of 2005, the Real ID Act was basically Congress over-responding to 9/11 by mandating that state-issued driver’s licenses be updated so they can be used for official purposes by the federal government (as defined by Homeland Security). While the primary goal is to mitigate air travel of undocumented immigrants between states, the aforementioned “official purposes” applies to whatever the federal government thinks prudent on any given day — including barring citizens without the ID from military bases or federal buildings, in addition to air travel.

If you haven’t heard of Real IDs (indicated by a little gold star in the corner), you’re not alone. The issue only gets a smattering of coverage every couple of years; plenty of states spent the period following 2005 pushing back against the plan, delaying its implementation several times via extensions. It was initially supposed to come into effect in four phases starting in 2008, but changes didn’t actually start until 2014. At this point, the nation is at phase three (which restricts access to federal facilities), with phase four applying new rules to U.S. air travel.

The Real ID arrangement is not terribly popular among public interest groups across the political spectrum. It’s opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way (progressive), American Center for Law & Justice (conservative-Christian), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (liberal pro-union), Gun Owners of America (pro-gun, duh), the Cato Institute (libertarian), and countless groups advocating for digital privacy and public officials/legislators from both parties.

Many have criticized Real ID as unconstitutional and a blatant overreach by the federal government against states’ rights. Others are just angry the act passed behind closed doors with little to no input from the American public, or are concerned with the amount of personal information that could be floating around various national databases. There’s also some confusion as to how the system is even supposed to function — as it basically establishes a federal form of identification with real legal implications that’s left entirely to states for implementation.

Many states also already offer “enhanced drivers licenses” that use similar features but don’t technically qualify as Real IDs, requiring individuals to reapply. That requires quite a bit of documentation, including some previous form of identification, birth certificate, documentation of legal status (social security card), and showing name and principal residence address — all of which will be kept on file in each state’s DMV/SOS database to be shared with all other states.

However, with many federal buildings closed on account of the coronavirus, Trump has elected to extend the deadline until October 2021. That should buy people some time to get theirs (so they aren’t barred from flying) or perhaps rally for one big push against an act that doesn’t seem terribly welcome.

Post-9/11 security measures have already allowed the National Security Agency to spy on countless U.S. citizens who had done nothing wrong. Critics say Real ID poses similar concerns, with advocates claiming it’s simply an easy way to expand the usefulness of driving IDs to promote public safety by creating something that’s harder to counterfeit. Whichever description is more accurate, Homeland Security said there would be no changes beyond the delay on Thursday.

“Due to circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the national emergency declaration, the Department of Homeland Security, as directed by President Donald J. Trump, is extending the REAL ID enforcement deadline beyond the current October 1, 2020 deadline,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement. “I have determined that states require a twelve-month delay and that the new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021. DHS will publish a notice of the new deadline in the Federal Register in the coming days.”

“The federal, state and local response to the spread of the Coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline. Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the Administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts. States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to DMVs. This action will preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their REAL ID. Extending the deadline will also allow the Department to work with Congress to implement needed changes to expedite the issuance of REAL IDs once the current health crisis concludes.”

[Images: Alex Millauer/Shutterstock; Pennsylvania DMV]


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18 Comments on “National Real ID Deadline Delayed Until 2021...”

  • avatar

    I’ve lost track, but I suspect this is at least the 4th time RealID has been pushed back. At the current rate, it won’t ever be fully implemented.

  • avatar

    I don’t remember having to go in person for a US passport. Why cannot the “real ID” driver’s license be done the same way?

    • 0 avatar

      Just because you don’t recall it, doesn’t mean that first time applicants are not required to appear in person;

      They are:

  • avatar

    The Sunshine State just sent (via the mail) my updated Real ID with the gold star so I’m all dressed up but with no place to go. My license just expired so FL updated it automatically with no DMV visit required. I only knew about it because I often traveled for work and the joke known as the TSA had signs all over the airport telling me I needed a special star just to get on a plane.

  • avatar

    I moved to California about a year before the real id became law. Now I have to show them the exact same documents I used to get a DL and register to vote. You would think I could just show my DL and voter ID to get a Real ID, but alas bureaucracy need to be fed it’s paperwork.

  • avatar

    Agreed. I have my license and passport. Should be enough, since you can fly with your passport, even after real ID goes into effect.

    But no….

  • avatar

    I get it with some of the pushback on this and a few of the arguments against it are thoughtful arguments, but at this point (as of two weeks ago before the world turned upside down), the states that haven’t figured it out and implemented it are just dragging their feet and being backwards. I mean if Florida could figure it out already and *years* ago at that… c’mon!

  • avatar

    Makes me glad that I have a Retired Military ID. As I understand it, that will suffice. Guess I’ll find out when I renew my passport.

  • avatar

    “Papers, please.”

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this gets delayed again, or if some states are late.

  • avatar

    I don’t know who that cat in the middle is but I can tell him that the ’70s called, they want that plaid jacket back.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see who your talking about, but I did see two interesting folks myself. Why does the dude front and center have a sweatshirt, khakis, and then flip flops on? Where the hell is he dressed to go? A fishing conference?

      But the one that really has me asking WTF, is the guy that walked into a DMV with a bicycle helmet and Dutch clogs, what are you doing with your life? I think I’ve accidentally walked up the the door of my hotel with a hard hat on after a 16 hour shift but at least I realized before getting in the door that I had put it on my head upon exiting my vehicle.

  • avatar

    I have gone thru the hell of getting a Read ID. I waited 3 hours to get up to the counter. The clerk make a big fuss about my tax return check not listing all 9 digits of my SS#. Fortunately, I still had my original SS card issued when I started working at an A&P store at the age of 16.

    Based on above, it was far easier to get my passport via the mail. With 40% plus of the US population with a passport, I have a feeling it will be come the default ID to board a jet.

  • avatar

    Real ID is easy to get if you already have a passport, since that serves as sort of a master ID document that trumps (small letter ‘t’) all others.

    I have considerable sympathy for those who, due to changes in location and circumstance over the years find difficulty in mustering the required documents. I have none for people who fail to read the instructions and thus turn up without the stuff needed. It’s just not that complicated.

    How much waiting agony there may be is of course a function of your state’s BMV. Here in Indiana, which used to be as bad as anyone’s until a decade or more ago, most of the routine BMV functions were moved online. That freed up the BMV offices to handle the more difficult stuff expeditiously. On those occasions when I’ve had to go there the wait has rarely been over 20 minutes. Of course it helps to choose your moment — avoid the last day of the month.

    • 0 avatar

      You are right that experiences may vary

      Got mine last summer in California combined with a license renewal. Had a scheduled appointment (they were booked 4 months out so scheduled my July appointment in March). Appointment was scheduled for after DMV lunch a 1 pm. From the time I went in the door at 1230 until I finished was just under 4 hours and included 6 separate desk visits and getting a queue number at most of those desks. 90% of that time I was simply waiting for my number to be called.

      1. Check in to confirm appointment and get a number.
      2. Number called, returned to check in desk and given form and a number.
      3 Completed form, returned to desk and given number for test.
      4. Completed test, returned to desk, turned in number got result of test and given number for picture.
      5. Went to picture desk, picture taken and given number for computerized Real ID information input (which I had already done at home but that apparently did not populate to local DMV office).
      6. Completed Real ID input which generated a number.
      7. That number finally called and I went to Real ID desk person who carefully reviewed everything, Made copies of everything, took fingerprints reviewed everything again and said it was probably OK but apparently would be reviewed in Sacramento. If the forms/data were OK I could expect my license in the mail within 4-6 weeks.

      When I got my last number it was about 415pm and the person at the desk said they closed at 5 and if my number was not called before that time I would have to come back and start over. I don’t know if that person was correct but during my visit I talked with a few people who had shown up when the doors opened in the morning without an appointment did not get through with the process before the office closed at the end of the day.

      My experience was pretty early in issuing these by that office and the Real ID desk person was frank about how much manual input was required of the staff. Hopefully they have streamlined the procedure by this time. Also it was a time when California began stressing the importance of issuing driver’s licenses to non citizens. That process required additional information from the applicant and there were lots of applicants in line.

  • avatar

    I have lots of feelings about RealID and the TSA, all negative.

    I deliberately chose a non-RealID license when I renewed. I’ll bring my passport if I absolutely must get on an airplane.

    Here’s a page that debunks RealID:

    More here:

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Those politicians who don’t trust democratic elections have cried for years that people must have ID in order to vote, in spite of verification required at the time of registration and the absolute lack of substantial vote fraud

    I guess too many of the ‘wrong’ people went and got that ID, so those IDs must be fake.

    Now, it’s time for ‘real’ ID. Pretty soon, you’ll need ‘Really Real ID’…

  • avatar

    Nevada has been a ‘gold star’ licensing state at least for the last three years for new residents.

  • avatar

    It is completely pointless. All this “real ID” BS started because of 9/11 Several hijackers had Real IDs, fraudulently obtained VA licenses.

    Once again the innocent get punished for the crimes of the guilty…..

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