Senate Democratic leaders accused the governor’s office of spreading misinformation on the REAL ID Act even as they announced their plan to comply with the federal identification law.
The Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, made the announcement on Tuesday and included audio of what they said was a phone call made to the governor’s office about the need for passports to travel.
They said the audio showed a member of Martinez’s office saying that New Mexicans would need a passport—not just a state-issued driver’s license—to travel by January 10 of next year.
Federal officials have said that New Mexicans would need passports or other identification to enter some federal facilities by next January but that travel through airports would not be enforced until at least the spring.
“It is time to clear up for New Mexico residents whether they need to run out and get a passport, or not, in order to take a domestic commercial flight, or to enter a federal building or one of the military or research facilities in our state. The answer is no, you don’t need to do that,” Sanchez said in a statement. “Some within state government and some in the media have been irresponsible about this fact. It has led to a misperception in the public on this important issue.”
An opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal last month from a DHS official said that any changes to identification allowed for domestic flights would be announced with 120 day’s warning.
Democrats say that legislation that passed by a wide bipartisan margin near the end of this year’s legislative session would have put New Mexico in compliance with the federal law that became law in 2005.
The legislation was never taken up by the House, which now has a Republican majority.
Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, have voted multiple times over the past five years to repeal a New Mexico law that allows those who are in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. The House also rejected a two-tier systems, such as the one that passed the Senate and which Democrats vowed to reintroduce and pass again this year.
“Senate Democrats will once again support legislation in the upcoming session to change our driver’s licenses to meet the standards of the federal REAL ID law,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “Like the bill we passed earlier this year, but which was rejected by the Governor and House Republicans, it will make New Mexico REAL ID compliant.”
The Republican Party of New Mexico responded on Wednesday in a statement to the media, but did not address the claim that there had been some misleading about hte need for passports.
“The person who remains divisive on this issue is Senator Michael Sanchez—who continues to deny this much needed legislation even though nearly 70% of New Mexicans want to repeal this dangerous law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said Debbie Maestas, Chairman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. “It’s time we advance and put New Mexico’s safety ahead of Michael Sanchez’s political ambitions.”
The release noted that some would need “a Passport for identification to be able to access various places come January 10, 2016.”
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said that the legislation is similar to a House amendment that the majority voted against.
“All we needed was for only 5 House Republican to vote for the floor substitute to be compliant with federal law,” he said. “The bipartisan Senate bill is the best solution with the easiest path through the legislature.”
Fears of driver’s licenses not being proper identification for travel have led to thousands of New Mexicans to apply for passports in recent months. This comes after the federal Department of Homeland Security denied an extension for REAL ID compliance earlier this year.
The audio also lays the blame at the feet of Bill Richardson for the REAL ID noncompliance. Richardson signed the law that allows those in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses. However, states—such as Utah—allow those who are in the country to illegally to drive while still complying with the REAL ID Act.
Update: Added response by the Republican Party of New Mexico.