It released a study Monday asserting that the REAL ID Act is essentially dead because most states refuse to comply with it as an unfunded mandate and federal officials respond by constantly extending deadlines. Cato calls for the federal government to stop spending money to implement it.
The study gives a state-by-state rundown of which states have complied, and which refuse. Twenty-one were listed as in compliance, according to the report. But it says Utah is a rare case.
"Utah is in the unusual position of having firmly refused REAL ID," it says, "but [is] taking every step the Department of Homeland Security wants toward building the national ID."
The study notes the Utah Legislature passed two resolutions attacking REAL ID in 2007 and 2009, and then in 2010 passed a law to ban implementing it.
The ban was sponsored by former Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who said the federal law passed after the 9/11 attacks to improve security would bring "a national ID card that could lead to all sorts of tyranny."
Sandstrom said worrisome provisions included the addition of electronic chips in driver licenses that he warned "could lead to tracking of movements of individuals and could be used to track the purchases of things such as ammunition and guns."
The ban was supported by both the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.
Despite that, the study notes that "Utah was deemed to have met DHS's REAL ID milestones as of September 2013."
The study does not say why that happened. But it is because an immigration-reform law passed in 2008, SB81 by former Sen. John Hickman, R-St. George, required residents to prove they are U.S. citizens before they could obtain a full driver license (a Utah driving privilege card is still available to undocumented immigrants).
"Independent of REAL ID, Utah has required proof of identification, proof of legal residence, Social Security number and number confirmation, and two proofs of residence to establish Utah residency," the CATO study says. "These requirements are just as strict as REAL ID's milestones."
It adds, "The DHS considers the state to have met the milestones for compliance without actually being compliant. Whatever the case, Utah is poised to become a national ID state when and if the political winds blow strongly enough that way."
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said Monday the situation is an unwitting result of some lawmakers who wanted to ensure that only U.S. citizens may obtain full driver licenses, without realizing that would require gathering the same sort of documentation and data required by the REAL ID Act that they hate.
"The same people who rail against giving a driver's license to anyone but a U.S. citizen also absolutely oppose any kind of federal database" with similar information, said Bramble, who fought to allow driving privilege cards for undocumented immigrants. "I don't think you can reconcile those two points of view and they come from the same constituency."
Bramble added that he recently renewed his driver license, "and it took me three trips" before he arrived with all the required forms of identification.