Roughly 99 million Americans still do not have identification in compliance with a federal law set to take effect in October. More than half of Hawaii licenses and IDs are compliant, but for those on Oahu who haven't gotten the approved identifications, the wait for an appointment now stretches to about six weeks.
Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005. In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it set national standards for verifying identities when states issue ID cards.
The Sept. 11 hijackers used a variety of legally and illegally obtained state ID cards to board commercial flights.
On Oct. 1 of this year, federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration will stop accepting IDs issued by states whose identity verificaton practices fail to comply with the REAL ID Act. The law requires states to verify personal details of a license applicant using other official documents like a birth certificate, passport, or Social Security card.
But with only seven months before the changes kick in, millions of Americans still lack the all-important “gold star” on their license. Two states, Oregon and Oklahoma, are not yet issuing them.
Now the travel industry is sounding the alarm. Tori Emerson Barnes, vice president for public affairs and policy with the U.S. Travel Industry Association, says that the new rules are poised to cause economic disruption.
“When you look at the ripple effect throughout the economy, that's the one that's not showing up at a hotel, renting a car, visiting a destination where they might spend money on retail and other things,” Barnes said.
An association survey indicates that 57 million Americans aren’t even aware of the October deadline, and almost 100 million do not have a REAL ID-complaint form of identification.
To streamline the process, the Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it would allow states to accept personal documents online, although it will be up to states to take advantage of that and it is not available locally.
In Hawaii, the authority to issue state identification cards and driver’s licenses is delegated to the counties.
A spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Transportation said it would be up to counties to develop and maintain a database for accepting REAL ID Act documents online.
Even with the new rule, residents would still need to appear in person to verify their identity.
Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii counties are taking walk-ins for gold star IDs. Oahu residents are being asked to schedule an appointment online.
Sheri Kajiwara, director of dustomer service with the City and County of Honolulu, says the current wait time for a REAL ID appointment is around six weeks.
When it comes to obtaining the new gold-star licenses, Hawaii residents are well ahead of their counterparts in other states.
Roughly 56% of Hawaii licenses and IDs in circulation are REAL ID-complaint, compared to 34% nationally. On Oahu, where roughly 70% of the state population lives, the city says 57% of licenses in circulation now have the gold star.
Each county website has a list of documents necessary to get a gold star. Kajiwara strongly suggests applicants check that list before appearing at their appointment.
She says that anyone who has ever changed their name needs to ensure that the names listed on their supporting documents all match.
“Anytime you’ve opted to have a name change, you need to show why your names don't match. If you have a valid passport, people should use that and their Social Security card, because you've usually gotten both as an adult and those names will match.”
Kajiwara also urges residents not to wait. Even after getting an ID appointment, it will still take about four weeks to get a new license in the mail. The TSA will not accept the temporary paper copy.
The situation in Hawaii is further complicated by the fact that thousands of licenses were issued without the gold star, despite applicants presenting the documents required by the REAL ID Act.
Hawaii has been in compliance with the law since 2013, but the Department of Homeland Security originally was not requiring the gold star be physically printed on each license.
That changed in 2018. On Oahu, Kajiwara estimates 90,000 licenses were issued during that time that are in compliance with the REAL ID standards but do not have the gold star.
Issues like that also have the travel industry worried. The U.S. Travel Industry Association estimates that fully enforcing the new ID standards under current conditions would result in more than 500,000 people being turned away at security checkpoints in the first week, resulting in a bill of almost $300 million in lost economic activity.
Barnes argues that the 2005 ID law is already outdated and not worth the potential disruption. She says that the TSA should adopt biometric screening already in use by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
In 2018, the TSA and Delta Airlines collaborated to produce a fully-biometric terminal in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
Hawaii residents who do not obtain a gold star license in time can still fly using federally issued identification, like a passport or military ID.
Check county websites for the list of required documents: