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Barriers Lifted for FAS Citizens to Obtain ‘REAL IDs’

September 8, 2019, 10:00 AM HST (Updated September 7, 2019, 2:39 PM)
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Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, June 2019. Courtesy photo

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced it will remove barriers placed on citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS) seeking to secure REAL ID Act-compliant identification in response to a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Prior to this effort, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services required FAS citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau residing in the U.S. to present a visa or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in order to receive a REAL ID Act-compliant driver’s license. Under a decades-old treaty with the U.S. known as the Compacts of Free Association (COFA), FAS citizens are able to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely as non-immigrants without having to obtain a visa or an EAD card. The requirement for FAS citizens to suddenly obtain an EAD to renew their driver’s licenses put many at risk of losing their employment, given the delay and burden of applying for and receiving an EAD.

“Since the administration first announced the decision to require visas or EADs for FAS citizens, I’ve heard directly from employers, grassroots organizations, county and state agencies, and FAS citizens living and working in Hawai‘i about the significant and unnecessary financial hardships that this community faced in obtaining the identification they need and are legally entitled to possess,” Sen. Hirono said. “This announcement was welcome news for thousands of FAS citizens living in communities across our country, and I want to thank the bipartisan group of my colleagues for joining the effort to ensure we meet our special obligations under the Compacts of Free Association, which recognize the important national security partnership between the United States and the Freely Associated States.”

“While FAS citizens lawfully reside and work in the United States, they have been subject to a host of barriers when trying to acquire a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card,” Congressman Don Young said. “I have been engaged in correcting this issue legislatively for some time, including passing my bill, the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act, last Congress. I am pleased to see the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to allow FAS citizens to obtain REAL ID-compliant ID cards using the same requirements as citizens in the rest of the country – a U.S. passport and I-94 forms. I would like to thank Senator Mazie Hirono for partnering with me on this important national security issue. I will keep working in Congress to ensure REAL ID-compliant licenses are issued as efficiently and consistently as possible. ”

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Previously, FAS citizens residing in the U.S. were only able to receive temporary driver’s licenses and state identification cards, forcing them to renew annually. This often meant that FAS citizens were excluded from employment, housing, transportation, schools and other opportunities afforded to non-immigrants. Sen. Hirono worked to advance the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States Act of 2018 that unanimously passed the U.S. Senate and was signed into law. The intent of this legislation was to ensure that FAS citizens in the U.S. could receive full-term REAL ID Act-compliant identification documents without a visa or EAD.

This announcement follows a bipartisan request from five Senators and seven members of the House of Representatives for DHS to change the guidance.

In October 2020, REAL ID Act-compliant identification or other acceptable forms of identification will be required for every person accessing federal facilities and traveling domestically on a commercial airline.

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