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D.C. begins issuing REAL ID driver's licenses

Thursday - 5/1/2014, 5:37am  ET

WASHINGTON -- Thursday is the day D.C. starts issuing new driver's licenses and ID cards that comply with the federal REAL ID Act.

But chances are you don't have to rush to get one.

The goal of the REAL ID Act of 2005 was to tackle weaknesses exposed during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when terrorists managed to get valid IDs and use them to board planes.

There's been confusion over how soon D.C. drivers need to get the new cards, which require you to bring documents to a Department of Motor Vehicles office verifying you are who you say you are.

The good news is, if you already have a District driver's license or ID card in your wallet, it will remain valid until the expiration date. And you'll still be able to use it (until it expires) to get into federal buildings and board planes.

The only people who need to get a new license or ID card today are those applying for one for the first time, renewing because their current one has expired, or in need of a new one because theirs was lost or stolen or because they changed their address.

A recording on the D.C. DMV phone line tells callers, "There is no need for residents to either visit DMV offices or call prior to the expiration date of their existing credential."

Also Thursday, the District begins issuing special "limited purpose" driver's licenses and ID cards to illegal immigrants.

They're for people who have been D.C. residents for at least six months but do not have Social Security numbers.

The cards cannot be used to enter federal buildings or nuclear plants, or board planes. They are marked with the words "not for federal official purposes" to reflect these limitations.

The District says granting limited-purpose driver's licenses to illegal immigrants will help improve public safety and help users get around more easily. For illegal immigrants who may be afraid to get one of these licenses for fear of possible deportation, protections are built in.

The D.C. DMV's website reads, "The Driver's Safety Amendment Act prohibits the use of Limited Purpose credentials for consideration of an individual's citizenship or immigration status or as a basis for a criminal investigation, arrest or detention."

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