Washington, DC – September 27, 2018….Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3) today announced that the REAL ID Act Modification for Freely Associated States (H.R. 3398), legislation he cosponsored, passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill amends the Real ID Act of 2005 to allow citizens of the Marshall Islands and other Freely Associated States (FAS) to obtain a driver’s license or personal identification card. Under current law, citizens of these regions can only obtain temporary licenses that need to be renewed each year. This has caused difficulties for many legal residents who are asked for long-term identification cards when seeking job opportunities or applying for bank accounts.
Congressman Womack said, “The Marshallese in Springdale and across Arkansas enrich our state. Giving residents the tools they need to be successful and productive is critical to the well-being of our district – and this legislation does just that. The Marshallese people are part of the fabric of our district and this common sense solution will continue to support the great relationship we have built and shared as a community. I ask that my colleagues in the Senate act quickly to pass it.”
Gerald Zackios, Ambassador of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United States, said, “On behalf of the many Marshallese who are proud to call Arkansas their home, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Congressman Steve Womack for his leadership in the House passage of the REAL ID Modification for Freely Associated States Act. Today is a momentous day, and it would not have been possible without Congressman Womack’s hard work, dedication and effectiveness in Congress.”
Arkansas boasts the largest Marshallese population in the continental U.S. The bill takes necessary steps to address hardships they have faced when moving to Northwest Arkansas. In general, permanent licenses are necessary for applying to jobs, as well as establishing banking, housing and utility accounts. Local residents and business stakeholders have supported the reform and highlighted how the change will benefit our community and state.
Since the 1980s, thousands of Marshallese have legally migrated to the United States. It is estimated that 8,000 to 14,000 Marshallese individuals reside in Arkansas. In addition to its embassy in Washington, D.C., the Republic of the Marshall Islands also has a consulate in Springdale.
The U.S. and Marshall Islands relationship dates back to the end of World War II. The Marshall Islands became part of the U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. In 1986, the Marshall Islands entered a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the U.S. and became a sovereign FAS. Under the COFA, the U.S. has significant military basing rights in the Marshall Islands that extend through at least 2066. The security and sovereignty of the Marshall Islands is important to our country and to the thousands of Marshallese who have planted roots in Arkansas.
Congressman Steve Womack (AR-3) has represented Arkansas’s Third Congressional District since 2011. He serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget and is a member of the House Appropriations defense, military construction-veterans affairs, and labor-health and human services subcommittees. Additionally, he co-chairs the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform.