** LEGAL UPDATE **
Passed in 2005, the federal REAL ID Act set standards that all states are expected to follow when issuing driver's licenses and identification cards, as a way of enhancing security. Once the Act goes into full effect, only people bearing REAL-ID-compliant cards will be able to use them as proof of identity for official federal purposes; that is, in settings such as boarding a domestic commercial aircraft or, in some situations, entering a federal building.
In order to get such a card, they'll need to prove their valid U.S. citizen or lawful immigration status.
Thus it's good news for some that, due especially to office closures in response to the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline to obtain REAL IDs has been pushed ahead to May 3, 2023.
The REAL-ID Act raises various issues for non-citizens of the United States who are applying for drivers' licenses or state IDs.
First, non-citizens who are lawfully present in the U.S. will need to prove their status to an official of their state's department of motor vehicles. This will likely be straightforward in for green card holders, but less so for people with obscure immigration situations that come with few rights, such as withholding of removal.
However, legislation passed in 2021 makes certain citizens and nationals of Afghanistan who were paroled into the United States eligible for REAL ID compliant driver's licenses and identification cards.
People who are in the U.S. without lawful immigration status (undocumented) are ineligible for READ ID cards, even in states that allow undocumented persons to obtain drivers' license. California, Washington, and New Mexico are examples of these. Licenses issued in such states will contain a notation indicating they're not REAL ID compliant, such as "FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY."
How this will play out once REAL ID is in full force remains to be seen; but again, that's now a question for the future.
Learn more on the Department of Homeland Security's REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions webpage.
Effective Date: May 3, 2023