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Bishops' Statement 2005-05-18: Bishop Barnes on REAL ID Act

 
Bishop of San Bernardino
Chairman
USCCB Committee on Migration
May 18, 2005

With the president's signature of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill on May 11, the REAL ID Act of 2005,a misguided and damaging piece of legislation, has become law.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 will severely weaken the U.S. asylum protection regime, raising the bar to obtain asylum in this nation beyond the reach of bona fide asylum-seekers. Women fleeing coercive family planning policies in China; Christians fleeing persecution in Burma, China, and the Middle East; and Cubans, Chinese, Colombians, and North Koreans fleeing political oppression in their countries are a few examples of refugees who will be impacted by this legislation.

Besides weakening our asylum system, the REAL ID Act imposes strict new standards for the issuance of state drivers licenses, including strict eligibility standards which require proof of legal status in our country. This is a short-sighted policy which will not make our nation safer, but our roads more dangerous.

Similarly, the REAL ID Act of 2005 grants unprecedented authority to the federal government to waive all laws in favor of the construction of barriers along the southwest border of the United States. The erection of barriers at our border will not break the spirit of migrants desperate to find work to support themselves and their families or disrupt the demand for labor by U.S. employers. It could, however, lead to more death along our border.

Despite the assertions of its proponents, The REAL ID Act of 2005 will not necessarily make our nation safer. It will, however, harm asylum seekers and immigrants. The USCCB will monitor how this harmful and ill-conceived legislation is implemented and work toward its repeal in the years ahead.

Comprehensive reform of our immigration laws which provides legal status and legal avenues for entry for migrants would provide a more humane and compassionate solution to our broken immigration system. We urge the Administration and Congress to enact immigration reform expeditiously.

Summary of the REAL ID Act

The READ ID Act, signed into law by President Bush as part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act on May 11, 2005, included many harsh provisions which will have an impact on asylum-seekers and immigrants to this country. Its provisions are summarized as follows:

Asylum

  • Applicants will have to demonstrate that their persecution, based on one of the five enumerated grounds of persecution (race, religion, social group, political opinion, nationality), was “at least one central motive” of the persecutor.
  • Permits immigration judges to require applicant to obtain corroborating evidence “unless the applicant does not have the evidence and cannot reasonably obtain the evidence.”
  • Authorizes adjudicators to make adverse credibility determinations based upon demeanor, including inconsistent written or oral statements made on matters immaterial to the heart of the claim. Allows adjudicators to consider the circumstances under which such statements were made.
  • Denies a presumption of credibility, but, absent an explicitly adverse credibility determination, accords the applicant a rebuttable presumption of credibility on appeal.
  • Lifts the cap on the number of asylees who can adjust to permanent residence and the 1,000 cap on asylum for persons fleeing coercive family planning policies.
Driver’s Licenses
  • Prohibits federal agencies from accepting for any official purpose a state-issued identification card or driver’s license that does not meet numerous minimum document requirements and issuance standards, including verification of immigration status.
  • Citizens, nationals, aliens lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence, conditional permanent residents, asylees, and refugees may receive a driver’s license.
  • Nonimmigrants, pending asylees, pending or approved applicants for temporary protected status, approved deferred action status, or pending application for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident or conditional resident status are eligible for temporary licenses.
  • The validity of a temporary driver’s license may not extend beyond the period of authorized stay. For those without an expiration date on their visa, the period of validity of license shall not exceed one year.
  • States which issue alternative identification documents which do not conform with federal standards must use a unique design or color indicator and clearly state that the license may not be used for federal purposes.
  • Provisions go into effect three years after enactment of bill.
Construction of Border Barriers
  • Provides the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all legal requirements the Secretary deems necessary, in his sole discretion, to expedite construction of security fences and barriers at the borders.
  • Decisions become effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
  • Claims or challenges to decision must be made within 60 days and be based on constitutional grounds.
Inadmissibility on Terrorism-Related Grounds
  • Significantly expands inadmissibility and grounds of removal for involvement in terrorist-related activity, including
  • Secretary of State and DHS Secretary may waive grounds of inadmissibility for an alien who is representative of a political, social, or other group that endorses or espouses terrorist activity; affords material support to an organization or individual who has engaged in terrorist activity; is a member of a group with a subgroup which endorses or espouses such activities.


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