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How the REAL ID driver's license will affect immigrants

Beginning in October 2020, a new homeland security change will go into effect. Any adult in the United States who wants to board a flight or enter a government building will have to present either their passport or a REAL ID driver's license. A regular driver's license will no longer be accepted.

The REAL ID is meant to enhance security. However, in order to get a REAL ID, you have to submit more documents than a regular driver's license. This may create challenges for immigrants with limited documentation.

REAL ID requirements

To renew a regular driver's license, the only identification you need to provide is your existing driver's license. To get a REAL ID, however, you will need to provide:

  • An official identification document that is not your driver's license (e.g., U.S. passport, birth certificate)
  • Proof of your Social Security Number (e.g., Social Security card, W-2 form)
  • Two documents proving your residency (e.g., utility bill, bank statement)

How this change affects immigrants

Under the new requirement, immigrants with legal status in the United States will be able to get a REAL ID. This includes:

  • Naturalized citizens
  • Permanent residents
  • Immigrants with asylee or refugee status
  • Individuals with non-immigrant visas
  • Anyone in the U.S. with a pending application for protected status

For undocumented immigrants, however, these new restrictions will prevent them from getting a REAL ID.

Texas is one of the states that will temporarily allow drivers to drive with non-compliant (i.e., regular) driver's licenses. However, such licenses will not be accepted as valid identification to board any flight after the October 2020 deadline.

In addition, any driver with a noncompliant driver's license will have to get a REAL ID once their current license expires. In other words, eventually all undocumented immigrants will be unable drive in the U.S.

We still have more than a year before the REAL ID requirement goes into effect. If you are an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., an immigration attorney can help you learn about steps you can take to obtain legal status before this change happens.

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