ACLU Suit Delays TRU-ID — Tuesday, May 8, 2012


As New Jersey motorists lined up to meet new nationally mandated licensing standards on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union was explaining to reporters how it had managed to delay the TRU-ID program — at least until August.

"The state tried to make important changes by going around constitutional requirements," ACLU Legal Director Ed Barocas told reporters in the group's Newark office. "By law, it's supposed to do so by holding public hearings to ensure that issues are raised that it otherwise might not have thought about."

Late Friday, a state Superior Court judge in Mercer County stopped the launch of TRU-ID until Aug. 3, when lawyers for the Motor Vehicle Commission will counter ACLU claims that the agency adopted requirements without accounting for immigrants, battered wives, homeless people and others who traditionally have trouble producing birth certificates and other documents to prove their identities. On Saturday, Judge Paul Innes denied state arguments to overturn his temporary restraining order.

Advocates for the affected groups joined Barocas and ACLU of New Jersey Executive Director Deborah Jacobs at the news conference, conducted about a mile from Newark Liberty Airport, where a plane piloted by Muslim terrorists with New Jersey licenses took part in the September 2001 attacks. Nearly every state, including New Jersey, tightened their licensing requirements within the next four years after Congress passed the REAL ID Act.

"The security measures now in place were good enough for 2005, and they're good enough in 2012," Jacobs said. "Why subject people to more?"

The ACLU's legal action caught the MVC by surprise just two days before it was about to shift from its current Six Points system to TRU-ID. Customers on line outside the agency's Lodi office, however, seemed oblivious to the change.

"Six Point, TRU-ID - I don't care, I just want to renew my license," said a driver who identified himself only as Pablo. "Do you have a pen?"

"It doesn't matter to me because I've got all my documents," said another customer, named Amy. "But tell me, do I still have to fill out all these forms?"

Under the current Six Points identification program, drivers can state their Social Security numbers to get a license or renew a current one. Under the TRU-ID standards, they would be required to show the card itself or a pay stub or tax documents. TRU-ID also mandates two proofs of residence, not simply one. Expired passports also will no longer be eligible as proof of identity; the valid document must be presented.

In announcing TRU-ID last month, MVC Chief Administrator Raymond Martinez said the new requirements will bring the state in line with REAL ID, which set national standards for driver's licenses and other IDs used for boarding commercial flights and entering federal buildings. "This is something we're doing because the federal government has ordered it," he said at the time.

But Jacobs noted that 15 states, including Illinois and New Hampshire, have opted not to conform to the federal legislation, and a bill now on the Pennsylvania governor's desk could add a 16th state. Ten other states have adopted requirements that do not meet some REAL ID requirements, she added.

"The federal government has no enforcement mechanism that makes a difference, and it also clearly cannot create a national ID card when half of states have already said, 'No, we're not going to do this.'"

Jacobs, Barocas and the other advocates cited these additional objections:

Immigrants: Drivers born in foreign countries frequently cannot gain access to birth certificates and other documents, and the bureaucracy often produces delays and mistakes in approving documents necessary for jobs and benefits. Immigration law is one of the most complicated and misunderstood parts of American jurisprudence, said Amy Gottleib, a professor of immigration law who represents the American Friends Service. "It will be extremely difficult for MVC representatives to interpret it," she added.

The homeless: Those who use homeless shelters frequently lose their birth certificates or are robbed of them. "TRU-ID will do even more to marginalize the poor and the homeless," said Maria Joeger of the Latin American Defense and Education Fund in Irvington.

Battered wives: Spouses who victimize their partners often steal or hide their documents to maintain control of them, Jacobs said, and it's not clear if the current policy of allowing battered women to use alternative addresses will be maintained under TRU-ID, said Jennifer Nick of the Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Privacy: Rules pertaining to the copying and storing of Social Security cards and other documents have not been spelled out, Jacobs said. Failure to protect against identity theft has already led to thousands of home foreclosures, said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye of New Jersey Citizen Action. "We're asking for public hearings on this issue," Salowe-Kaye added.

In a statement, the MVC said it regretted that the "last-minute" ACLU action would delay another agency initiative called "Skip the Trip," which would allow drivers born before Dec. 1, 1964, to renew licenses and identification cards by mail. But Jacobs and Barocas said the ACLU had requested meetings with the commission that went unheeded, necessitating its legal action.

Copyright 2012 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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