REAL ID is a real headache for Alaska’s rural residents
The REAL ID deadline is October 1, 2020. That’s the day you won’t be able to get on a commercial airplane flight, among other things, without a REAL ID compliant license or another acceptable form of identification, such as a passport. As that deadline draws closer, the obstacles residents of bush Alaska face in getting a REAL ID loom larger. The process of acquiring a REAL ID can be complicated, expensive and for those living off the road system and depend on air travel, not having the document will be a problem.
In 2005 Congress passed the REAL ID Act. It puts into law the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The act establishes minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and at the same time prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses from states that do not meet the minimum standards. Alaska has been one of those states.
To secure a REAL ID, a citizen must provide certain documents and because a photo is necessary they must visit a DMV facility. For some people the nearest DMV facility is a long and expensive airplane ride away. The complicated array of documents needed to obtain a REAL ID is listed on the State of Alaska’s website. The documents fall into the general categories of identity, lawful status in the USA, documentation of name change, Social Security card and proof of principal residency. In each category there are a number of acceptable documents listed. Some citizens appear at the DMV — often after a flight in from a village — to find that some rule makes one or more of their documents unacceptable.
“I’ll probably try and go in first and see if I have everything correct,” said John Peterson of Gambell. “Try and figure out how to get everything.” Proof of principal residency is a tough one for people who live in a village where there’s no mail delivery to a street address. A post office box is not accepted for the residency requirement and many of the villages have no official addresses for residences.
“I’ve heard we need a new ID,” said Steven Kiyutelluk of Shishmaref. “That’s the only thing I’ve heard about. I don’t travel too much.”
Henry Soolook of Little Diomede doesn’t have a driver’s license. “We don’t have no vehicles out here,” he said over the phone. “And we don’t have to show ID when we get on the chopper.” Diomeders who want to travel, first ride a helicopter to Wales and then take a commercial flight to Nome. “We don’t have no television out here or radio. We can’t receive radio out here.”
Local lawmakers Senator Donny Olson and Representative Neal Foster have been pressing the state for remedial action to enable rural people to get the REAL ID. So far the state has not been responsive. Bristol Bay Native Corporation organized a partnership with the DMV and went to New Stuyahok to give residents the opportunity to get their compliant driver’s license. They even supplied a truck so people could take the driving part of the test. But for the rest of the state no easy solution is on the horizon.
“I was told that somebody was going to come to all the villages and renew the REAL ID, as they call them,” said Palmer Sagoonick of Shaktoolik. “I think the state is sending someone. That’s my understanding.”
Information about REAL ID is not getting out to rural residents. In mid-December, the State of Alaska even went as far as to seek donations from the Alaskan public to the tune of $60,000 for a rural outreach program. According to a KTUU news report, Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said that a rural outreach program is in the works but uncertainty over funding has prompted the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles to solicit donations from the public in order to move forward. The commissioner urged the public to donate money to the DMV, as the one-of-a-kind “mobile” REAL ID machine is already in working order, but the money is still needed to get willing DMV representatives out to the communities in question.
This prompted sharp criticism from Senator Donny Olson (D-Golovin), who represents the largest state senate district in the nation, which is made up entirely of rural Alaska communities. He called on Governor Dunleavy in early January to seek an extension for the REAL ID implementation deadline. “Alaskans are not happy with this Administration’s desire to seek donations to implement a government program they do not want. Governor Dunleavy is extremely close with President Trump, and he should take advantage of that relationship to seek an extension so the state can figure out a proper path to reach all Alaskans – from rural to urban Alaska,” said Sen. Olson. “Without proper outreach to rural Alaska, many Alaskans won’t have access to travel for necessary medical care and family resources. This is an opportunity for Governor Dunleavy to lead and look out for rural Alaska,” concluded Sen. Olson.
At the 2019 AFN conference a resolution called on the State of Alaska to assist Native communities in providing access to DMV facilities. Without REAL ID medical travel will be impossible, a serious health hazard for many. “AFN calls on the State of Alaska DMV to travel to Alaska Native communities in rural Alaska to provide access to DMV services so its members will be able to obtain REAL ID-compliant State-issued licenses or ID cards by October 1, 2020,” reads the resolution.
Travelers who do not present a REAL ID-compliant license or acceptable alternative beginning October 1, 2020 will not be permitted through the TSA security checkpoint.