When last we checked in on the status of DHS threats to harass residents of states and territories that haven’t been sufficiently “compliant” with the REAL-ID Act of 2005, the focus was on the territory of American Samoa.
The REAL-ID Act applies to the District of Columbia and five US territories as well as to the fifty US states. American Samoa is the most distant from the US mainland and one of the smallest in population of these US territories, and is the only place subject to the REAL-ID Act whose native-born residents are not US citizens. There are only two scheduled airline flights a week between American Samoa and any other US state or territory.
Perhaps for these reasons, the DHS in its
infinite wisdom unreviewable discretion chose to make American Samoa the test of its threats to “enforce” the REAL-ID Act.
Every other state or territory was either certified as sufficiently compliant with the REAL-ID Act (even though few of them are) or given an extension of time to show a more compliant attitude. But the DHS invoked its REAL-ID “nuclear option” on American Samoa, announcing that effective February 5, 2018, “a driver’s license or ID issued by American Samoa (AS) will no longer be an acceptable document to board a federally-regulated commercial aircraft.” Air travelers showing ID cards issued by the government of American Samoa are subject to additional “ID verification” and/or “screening” (searches).
So how has the DHS effort to make an example out of American Samoa fared? And what can other states and territories learn from this example?
Basically, (1) the sky didn’t fall, and (2) the DHS blinked (again). The message to other states is that they shouldn’t be panicked into “compliance” by empty DHS threats.
The DHS crackdown on American Samoa came at an awkward moment: The first few flights that would have been subject to the new ultimatum were disrupted by a tropical storm that devastated the territory and led to a presidential declaration of emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), not the TSA, has been the DHS component in the spotlight in American Samoa in the two months since then.
Meanwhile, the TSA quietly backed down, providing new “special assistance” to holders of American Samoa “Certificates of Identity” who had been threatened with denial of common-carrier transportation to and from Hawaii and the rest of the USA:
Q: For American Samoans starting February 5, 2018: What if you do not have acceptable ID to board your plane?
Beginning February 5, 2018 American Samoans will not be permitted to use American Samoan-issued driver’s licenses and IDs to board commercial aircraft. However, to provide a smooth transition, from February 5th through May 6, 2018, TSA will provide additional assistance for American Samoans that arrive at the airport without acceptable identification, such as a passport.
In this case, you may be asked to present at least two other forms of ID, such as:
- American Samoa Certificate of Identity
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Voter registration card
- Vehicle registration
- Marriage certificate
- W-2 form
- Credit card
Anyone with an American Samoa certificate of identity (the counterpart of a state ID) is being allowed to fly, as long as they also show a credit card, vehicle registration, or any of the other documents listed above. Presumably, those without these additional documents are put through the TSA’s usual procedures for “verifying” the identity of air travelers who don’t have, or don’t chose to show, credentials the TSA considers acceptable.
Even in a territory as small as American Samoa, where local residents have fewer rights than anyone else born under the US flag (since they aren’t US citizens by birth), the TSA didn’t actually dare to carry out its threatened crackdown on air travelers.
Instead, the TSA just engaged in a little more of the petty harassment and second-class treatment which American Samoans have come to expect from the Federal government.
We’ve heard no reports of American Samoan would-be travelers being denied passage at airports on Samoa, in Hawaii, or elsewhere in the US. Today we filed a request under the Freedom Of Information Act for records of TSA policies and procedures for American Samoan travelers, including any records of how many people have showed up at airports with “unacceptable” American Samoa IDs, and what has happened to them.
What will happen after May 6th? The DHS could grant American Samoa an official extension of time to comply (as it has with every other state and territory), or it could extend the current “special assistance” policy. Officials from the government of American Samoa are reportedly continuing to negotiate with the DHS.