When state lawmakers last month passed a bill establishing a two-tier driver’s license system in New Mexico, many congratulated themselves for ending a years-long, contentious debate over driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally. Gov. Susana Martinez made similar remarks on Tuesday when she signed the legislation, which will go into effect July 1. But perhaps the key reason the Legislature passed the bill this year was to comply with a controversial federal law passed 11 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Largely absent from the discussion was how compliance with various provisions in the law will impact New Mexico in future years. The Real ID Act gives national standards on state identification cards in an effort to crackdown on fraud and identity theft.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed the driver’s license bill into law Tuesday afternoon at a self-congratulatory press conference at the Albuquerque Sunport. The bill will bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. In brief remarks that lasted only a couple of minutes, Martinez said no less than three times that the law will end New Mexico’s practice of allowing driver’s licenses for those who are in the country illegally. At one point she outlined how that practice will actually change. “Under this bill no illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license,” Martinez said.
Following passage of a bill during the recent legislative session to meet requirements of the federal Real ID Act, Gov. Susana Martinez has since applied for a waiver from the federal law. The Associated Press reports that Martinez formally requested a waiver for New Mexico from federal Homeland Security Department Deputy Secretary Alejando Mayorkas. Martinez told reporters last week that she would be doing so during her upcoming trip to Washington DC. Because of the state’s failure to make progress towards meeting Real ID standards, New Mexico driver’s licenses currently aren’t accepted as entrance to some federal facilities. Homeland Security warned that continued failure would mean its driver’s licenses won’t be able to be used in airports in two years.
Just one day after hammering out a compromise in a key committee, the full Senate overwhelmingly passed the compromise bill, sending it to the House. The legislation is now just one vote from the House away from heading to the governor’s desk. The original sponsors of the bill from the House indicated Friday night the House would support the legislation and Gov. Susana Martinez said that she would support and sign the bill “as is.”
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, presented the legislation on the Senate floor late Saturday afternoon as a hard-fought compromise. “We’ve gone five straight years of doing the same thing and people trying to get different results,” Smith said. Ingle said he understands everybody may not be happy with the bill.
Domestic abuse victim advocate groups and Democratic lawmakers met on Thursday to speak out against fingerprints and background checks in driver’s license legislation preferred by the House. Sheila Lewis, director of the victim advocacy group Santa Fe Safe, said background checks and fingerprinting for driver’s licenses may affect how some undocumented immigrants decide to report domestic abuse. “As we work to eliminate violence in the home we should not institute policies that restrict survivors’ ability to obtain a license that can help them get an order of protection against an abuser,” Lewis said. Lewis went on to say that background checks and fingerprint requirements would create “an additional barrier, and an unnecessary barrier” for some immigrants. Democratic legislators also testified against the fingerprinting provision.
The issue of driver’s licenses and who in New Mexico should be able to have them is a long-running topic in the New Mexico Legislature. Indications say, an agreement should happen this year thanks to pressure from the federal government. However, it is only one such issue with a long and winding road towards passage. Many lawmakers in the Roundhouse agree that it is common for bills to see years of debates, years of committee assignments and years of failure before they make it to the fourth floor and the Governor can sign them into law. A number of current laws have spent years being fine-tuned and changed in order to gain more traction.
After a marathon hearing, the Senate Public Affairs Committee advanced a driver’s license bill that supporters hope will finally end the problem the state has been facing for years. It didn’t come without controversy, in the form of an extensive amendment to the bill that passed the House, HB 99, to make it essentially a Senate bill, SB 256. It was not a committee substitute, which would require it to go back through committees in the House. But with an amendment, if it were to pass the Senate, then the House and Senate could have a conference committee to work out the differences between the two versions. The SPAC amendment passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against.
Pete Campos is a Democrat who represents Senate District 8. Lost amid the confusion, frustration and posturing regarding the federal government’s mandates for state driver’s licenses is an obvious solution: create a REAL ID card for those New Mexicans who want it and who qualify for it and keep the debate over driver’s licenses for immigrants separate. No one is happy with the federal government’s decision to change the requirements to board an airplane just to fly from Albuquerque to Denver. But, we all want a safe and secure country, and we recognize that the changes are the result of the investigation into how terrorists managed to board airplanes on September 11, 2001. It’s our job now to do what we can to help New Mexicans get the documents they need to travel by air.
A House bill aimed at creating a driving privilege card for immigrants without legal documentation, passed the House after almost three hours of debate and an attempt to replace it. Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, presented his driver’s license bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, to the House floor and faced a lengthy debate,mostly by Democrats who opposed the legislation. Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, argued that, if passed, the bill would encourage discriminatory practices by law enforcement agencies and the Motor Vehicle Division. Pacheco said he had no intention of discriminating against anyone and that his bill was focused on public safety. He said he listened, for years, to arguments that undocumented immigrants need the ability to legally drive.
A House Republican driver’s license bill aimed at issuing driving privilege cards to immigrants without legal status passed along party lines in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, told the committee his legislation was an attempt to solve a long-time problem surrounded in debate in New Mexico. “We’ve been dealing and wrestling with this problem for as long as I’ve been in the House,” Pacheco said. On hand as an expert witness was Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla, who also said Pacheco’s bill would put to rest the debate on who gets driver’s licenses as well. “I believe the solution you have before you takes care of everyone’s needs,” Padilla told the panel.