HARLINGEN — Unless it is delayed again, in less than a year you might be in for a big surprise when you attempt to board a plane at an airport.
On Oct. 1, 2020, a law passed by Congress way back in 2005 will take effect, mandating new identification procedures to board flights or enter federal buildings or facilities when ID is required.
The current Texas driver’s license or state identification card you probably use now won’t work unless it’s a Real ID-compliant license or card, which you can identify by the yellow star in the upper right. There are alternatives, such as a passport, but many travel experts and airport officials are concerned there will be confusion and frustration when the law bites.
“This is an important step in enhancing commercial aviation security and we urge travelers to ensure they have compliant documents,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, former acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. “DHS is committed to working with states as they continue their efforts to issue REAL IDs to Americans.”
But there is still work to do, DHS officials admit. Only 27 percent of Americans have been issued REAL ID-compliant identification.
9/11 was impetus
The REAL ID Act was passed by Congress almost 15 years ago in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks but implementation of the new law has been delayed.
Perhaps most importantly, the act’s intent is to enhance and improve commercial aviation security.
“TSA has been working to educate the public in a number of ways,” said Carrie Harmon, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration which is part of Homeland Security. “For example, there are signs at TSA checkpoints around the country, and in August, TSA officers started verbally advising travelers who present non-compliant IDs of the upcoming REAL ID requirement and enforcement date.
“TSA is also partnering with state DMVs, Departments of Public Safety and other stakeholders to get the word out,” Harmon added in an email yesterday.
Officials at Valley International Airport are monitoring the run-up to the new regulatory requirements passengers will confront about a year from now. But they say they’re confident any difficulties will be minor.
“It’s always good to be prepared,” Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation at VIA, said yesterday. “I don’t expect anything to change with the working relationship between the TSA and the airport.”
Texas out front
Texas was one of the first states to begin issuing REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards in 2016. You know you have one if it has a gold circle with an inset star located in the upper right-hand corner.
Eventually, given the churn of having to renew a driver’s license every six years for people between the ages of 18 and 84, everybody who drives will have a REAL ID-compliant license. For Texas residents 85 and older, licenses are valid for just two years but they, too, will receive the new REAL ID-compliant license when renewing.
There is no way to opt out of the new REAL-ID driver’s license.
If you have less than two years until your Texas driver’s license needs to be renewed (its expiration date is in red on the top right), you can go ahead and renew early and obtain a REAL ID-compliant license now.
If your card lacks the star, it’s still good to use for driving, banking or voting in the State of Texas. After Oct. 1, 2020, it won’t be accepted as identification for federal purposes, such as entry to federal buildings or for passing a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint to board a commercial airline flight.
Not all states ready
For a law passed in 2005, it has taken some time for states to gear up for the new identification regulations.
In January 2017, for example, only 26 states were REAL ID-compliant, according to TSA officials.
Today 47 of the 50 U.S. states are REAL ID-compliant, TSA says. Oklahoma and Oregon have received extensions, and New Jersey’s program is ready to kick off but is currently under review.
“TSA is also conducting media events and sending out press releases for individual airports/markets,” TSA’s Harmon said. “In Texas, there have already been media events at airports such as Austin and Waco, and there will be events at other airports and cities, including Dallas and Houston, in the coming weeks.”