Real ID deadline fast approaching, 'mixed experiences' with tribal alternative

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 6:29 PM AKST
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The deadline is fast approaching for Alaskans to get a new type of driver’s license that will allow them to fly on commercial airplanes, in rural Alaska there is a rush to ensure residents are compliant in time.

The deadline for Alaskans to get a Real ID is Oct. 1, other identification cards can be used before and after that date to fly including passports, military IDs and tribal IDs.

“We probably have a number of Alaskans right now who have these alternative IDs they can use, but they just don’t realize it,” the governor said to reporters on Wednesday.

A joint House State Affairs and Tribal Affairs Committee hearing saw testimony from Alaska Native leaders from across the state who said there were ongoing issues with tribal ID cards.

Jacoline Bergstrom, executive director of health services with Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), told the committee that tribal members were having “mixed experiences” using tribal ID cards when going through TSA. Some TSA officers have accepted the cards while others have rejected them, Bergstrom said.

The experience was echoed by tribal leaders across Alaska.

Department of Administration officials have requested that the TSA ensure officers are properly trained to recognize tribal IDs as a valid form of identification.

Uncertainty over using a tribal ID to fly has caused anxiety among tribal members concerned they might get stranded away from home, testifiers said.

The biggest concern expressed was when residents need to travel from rural villages to rural hubs or Anchorage or Seattle for medical flights. Bergstrom said TCC members average 1,000-1,200 medical flights per week.

The Division of Motor Vehicles is planning outreach efforts to get Alaskans Real ID compliant from a temporary office in the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to some planned trips to remote villages.

Additional DMV trips to rural Alaska will largely need to be funded by tribal organizations. Richard Peterson, president of Tlingit and Haida, said he found that “appalling.”

Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka told the committee that a contractor would be working in Southwest Alaska to serve roughly 20 villages. The region is said to have the densest population of Alaskans without valid IDs.

Tshibaka also told the committee that rural residents flying for medical appointments in towns and cities with a DMV office could use the trip as an opportunity to get a Real ID.

Some lawmakers have said more DMV trips to remote villages are needed to ensure compliance with the federally required identification card. “People are citizens wherever they live,” Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, said to the committee.

DMV trips are not problem free.

Technological issues with internet connectivity and failing biometric cameras bedeviled a December DMV pilot program trip to New Stuyahok. Only 36% of adults were able to sign-up and 30 people turned up with the wrong documents.

Applying for the new ID card is said to be a complex process for anyone, wherever they live.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told the Legislature on Tuesday that she had issues with her address when she made her application. “Any of you who have tried to get your Real ID know it’s not a quick five minute process,” she said before calling for the state to spend more resources to ensure compliance across Alaska.

In remote villages, there are often complicating factors with signing-up as officials try to verify addresses and get necessary identifying documents. Villages often don’t have numbered houses and many elders have never held a birth certificate.

A workaround is being implemented by the DMV where a tribal leader can write a letter describing where a resident lives.

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