Homeless Worry about Cost of Getting Passport to Access Federal Buildings

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO

Joy Junction Inc.

passport1New Mexicans are lining up in droves to get passports  before their state driver’s licenses don’t get them on planes anymore or they’re denied admission to federal buildings.

The tougher requirements mean that by Jan. 10 2016, anyone seeking access to almost all federal facilities in the state will not be able to use their New Mexico driver’s license.

This happened because New Mexico’s current law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses means the state is out of compliance with the Real ID Act, which was passed in response to 9/11.

In October, the federal government declined to give New Mexico another extension on meeting its requirements. That means a passport (or passport card) is your only alternative.

New Mexico’s non compliance is hardly a new issue. Local media were talking about it back in Dec. 2009.

Getting a U.S. passport is pricey, though. A new one will set you back $135.00 and even a passport card (not valid for international travel by air) will cost you $55.00.

A passport card will be sufficient for most needs experienced by the homeless, but Jan. 10 is just around the corner and there’s still the need to find that $55.00.passport card

On that day and after, a letter from a Department of Homeland Security official published in the Albuquerque Journal states, “New Mexico residents will need to show an alternative form of ID when visiting federal facilities … If planning a visit … you should contact the agency in charge to confirm what alternative forms of identification are accepted or what procedures the facility allows for persons without acceptable identification.”

We asked some Joy Junction guests how they felt about the need to get passports to access federal facilities.

The reaction was uniformly negative. One man said, “ I just heard about this crap … I’m angry about this! I can barely afford to get a state ID. How am I going to get a passport?”

One woman said, “I can’t believe this. This is America, right? I’m not a terrorist! What am I going to do in a federal building or airplane? I’m homeless, not a terrorist. This country is getting out of control.”

Another guest said, “What if I need to go to court? Do I have to get a passport just to go to court? Why does the government make it hard for the homeless? It’s like they don’t like us or want to help us.”

One woman said, “So, if we’re not allowed to go into a federal building or commercial plane, then is the government going to lower prices of passports? I’ve had a passport before. They were expensive in the 90’s and they’re more expensive now.”

One man summed up what he felt in six words. The first three were, “Make passports cheaper.” The last three words were, “Make them free.”

Another guest didn’t mince words, saying “I’m disgusted by our government. I always have been and I always will be.”

I understand the need for the Real ID Act, and have followed with interest the New Mexico Legislature’s determination to keep allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

However, I also get the frustration expressed by the guests to whom we talked about this issue. When you’re staying in a homeless shelter and dependent on others for your most basic needs, you’re not necessarily thinking about immigrants or national security. You’re more worried about your own security and making it to the next day.

What do you think?