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.
New Mexico received an extension on a waiver that will allow the state to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave the extension to the state on Friday after the state legislature approved a bill that would bring New Mexico into compliance with the controversial federal law while still allowing those who are in the country illegally to legally drive. The Associated Press first reported the news that the federal government granted the waiver. Gov. Susana Martinez requested the waiver earlier this week while in Washington D.C.
This comes after DHS denied an extension to New Mexico late last year. The department let the congressional delegation know that an extension would still be available if the Legislature and governor could come to an agreement before the session.
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.
It took six legislative sessions, but the Legislature finally sent a bill to the governor related to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The compromise legislation ended up being closer to the version that passed the Senate late in the 2015 session than the versions that passed the House in the previous years. The bill allows those who are in the country illegally to get a driver’s authorization card, which would not be compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Those who can prove they are in the country legally could choose to either have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or the driver’s authorization card. This is the first in a series of stories looking back at the key things that passed or failed during the 2016 legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said he was disappointed that job creation bills weren’t a focus of the session, but still outlined a number of legislatives successes this year. Overall, Sanchez said he believed the Senate did well this year. Related story: Martinez gives low-key sendoff to low-key session
“We did the right thing for the people of the state of New Mexico and what is good for the people of the state of New Mexico,” Sanchez said when asked about wins or losses in the session. “It’s not about winning or losing,” he said. “It’s about doing what is right.”
The House of Representatives Monday late afternoon voted 65-1 to concur with the Senate’s version of the driver’s license bill, bringing the heated issue to an end, at least for now. Only Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, voted against the measure, though she did not explain her vote on the floor. Debate was quick, lasting less than 10 minutes, and featured a few self-congratulatory remarks. “This is a victory for the people of New Mexico,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “Unquestionably it’s a victory for our immigrant community here in New Mexico.”
The bill allows immigrants who are not in the country legally who don’t already have driver’s licenses to qualify for driver’s privilege cards, which don’t work for identification purposes.
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.
A long-running debate over a controversial issue looks like it is near an end. The Senate Finance Committee on Friday night unanimously passed legislation related to driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally. The legislation would put New Mexico in line with the federal REAL ID Act while allowing those who are in the country illegally to continue to drive legally. Gov. Susana Martinez indicated that she would support the legislation, if it passes in the current form. Martinez’s office did not provide a statement to NM Political Report, as they did to other media outlets and later put on Twitter.
Emotional testimony and talk about heated rhetoric preceded a unanimous vote Friday in the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass a bill to put New Mexico in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act on. Lawmakers crowded the table where sponsors sit while presenting legislation, with Senate sponsors John Arthur Smith, D-Deming and Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, crowded next to House sponsors Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch and Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque. State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla also sat at the table. The committee commended Smith and Ingle for working on a compromise bill separate from the House bill that cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee after extensive changes. “The big, fundamental difference when you really get down to it [is] the ability to opt out of REAL ID,” Smith told NM Political Report after the hearing.