June 25, 2008
The problem with Real ID
Posted by: Andoni
When I related the story of the Sheriff’s Department in New Mexico going wild to find illegal immigrants in "That 5 a. m. bang on the door" several of you responded that this is the reason we need to move forward quickly with “Real ID.”
Let me tell you, I ran face to face into Real ID today and it isn’t a pretty site.
Today I accompanied a foreign student, here legally, who wanted to get a state ID so he doesn’t have to carry his passport everywhere he goes. Here is how you get a state id. First you have to get a social security number. However, because he is not eligible for a social security number, he has to apply for a social security number and receive a “denial letter” saying he can’t have a social security number. With the social security denial letter, he has to go to the state drivers licensing office (this is whether he simply wants an ID or a drivers license) and show them the denial letter. He also have to bring a ton of documents to prove who he is and that he is here legally: passport, I-94, I-20, and utility bills and bank statements tying you to the address you claim.
After several hours of waiting in lines, things went well, until the very end. That is when the bureaucrat went to the Homeland Security new database called SAVE (started in January) to verify the information. That’s when she found that Homeland Security had entered his birthday into their database incorrectly. All the other documents had the same correct birthday, but Homeland Security had something different. Everything else matched, passport numbers, I-94 numbers, etc., but because the manually entered birthday did not match, he was stamped DENIED.
It’s quite possible that if I were not standing next to him, speaking good English and wearing a T-shirt with an American flag, they might have carried him away to detention.
They gave him a letter with instructions on what to do next. Following the instructions he called the 888 number on the letter to reach the proper department within Homeland Security but the number had been disconnected. I called my Congressman’s office and got the correct number. After calling Homeland Security, we were on hold for 30 minutes. After going through several people, they told us that the only way to correct the database was to appear in person at a Homeland Security Office, but the appointment had to be made online. This person then proceeded to give me the webpage address to make the appointment. It was the wrong url address. After several tries of all the permutations, I did a Google search and found the correct url. Unfortunately the first appointment available was over a month away.
I am quite angry over what happened. The error was on the part of Homeland Security, but it is the person who suffers. Common sense would tell you that it was a simple data entry error, but the victim is the one who has to go out of his way to correct it. This is also an example of being presumed guilty, until you can prove your innocence.
I’m for Real ID, but I am not for incompetence. If this system is to work, bureaucrats cannot be making these kinds of errors.
In a similar vein, there is legislation in the works that would force employers to fire any employee whose social security number does not match the one in the national database. Experts say that up to 20% of the social security database has errors. If my experience today in happens with an obvious minor typo error is any indication of the future, hundreds of thousands of legal workers will be fired and not be able to clear things up in time to save themselves from the dire consequences that come from losing your job and not being able to work.
I will keep you posted on the situation I described today, but I am not happy. This could turn out to be like the Do Not Fly List, where it is nearly impossible to correct the government’s error. I guess I should be thankful we discovered this problem on the new database ourselves. Had we not discovered it, it’s possible the immigration officer at the airport would have discovered it on this person’s next entry to the United States, and deported him on the spot. These officers have a history of denying entry for the most minor reason.
Real ID might be a good idea in theory, but the evidence I saw today makes me think that at the moment it will do more harm than good. Before we can have Real ID we have to have our databases as near to 100% correct as possible and have in place a mechanism where errors can be quickly and easily corrected.
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