[JURIST] All 50 states have been granted extensions [DHS press release] to comply with new requirements under the REAL ID Act [PDF text; JURIST news archive], the US Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday. The extension pushes back the deadline for states to begin implementing new, more secure drivers' licenses to Dec. 31, 2009; in the meantime, citizens can continue using their current licenses as valid identification. DHS granted an extension to Maine, the last state to receive one, on Wednesday, after Maine Gov. John Baldacci pledged to push legislation [press release] to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining state ID cards. USA Today has more.
Initially drafted after the Sept. 11 attacks and designed to discourage illegal immigration, the REAL ID Act attempts to make it more difficult for terrorists to fraudulently obtain US driver's licenses and other government IDs by mandating that states require birth certificates or similar documentation and also consult national immigration databases before issuing IDs. After controversy and strenuous opposition from civil libertarians [FindLaw commentary], it finally passed in 2005 [JURIST report] as part of an emergency supplemental appropriations defense spending bill. State lawmakers had previously expressed concern [JURIST report] about possible problems expected to accompany the implementation of the REAL ID Act, fearing that they would not be able to comply with the law's requirements before the May 2008 deadline. In March, Homeland Security responded to these concerns by extending the deadline for compliance by 18 months [JURIST report]. In January, the DHS issued a final rule [text; DHS backgrounder] establishing the new minimum standards [press release; JURIST report] for state-issued identification cards.