Doña Ana County commissioners want the state legislature to institute a two-tier driver’s license system in the upcoming legislative session to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. The issue, when has been a perennial issue since Gov. Susana Martinez was elected, has renewed attention after the state failed to receive a waiver from the federal government over compliance to the REAL ID Act. This means that New Mexico driver’s licenses will not be accepted to enter federal facilities on January 10. The federal government says that in the spring, New Mexico driver’s licenses will not be proper identification to board commercial flights. It is now one of the top issues that will face the Legislature in the upcoming legislative session that begins on January 19.
The Democrats in the New Mexico congressional delegation say it is up the state Legislature to solve the REAL ID problem. The REAL ID Act requires proof of citizenship or lawful status in the United States for an identification to be used for federal uses, such as entering federal facilities or eventually to get on an airplane. New Mexico did not receive a waiver from the federal government for REAL ID compliance. The remarks came in a joint statement from Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham. All are Democrats.
New Mexicans may not be able to use their state-issued driver’s licenses to board airplanes by next year, according to a letter from the federal Department of Homeland Security. The federal agency recently rejected a waiver the state applied for to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. Congress passed the law 10 years ago in an attempt to shore state driver’s licenses into a national I.D. program follow the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. The Associated Press first reported on the DHS letter, which was addressed to New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla. “New Mexico has not provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance with the REAL ID standards that would warrant granting your request for another extension,” the letter reads.
A last-minute effort to find common ground on a longstanding and emotionally charged issue was shuffled aside Thursday evening by House Republicans and two Democrats before the chamber approved a measure to undo state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. A 39 to 29 vote almost wholly weighted in favor of Republicans ended three hours of debate surrounding a bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque. The legislation would allow the state to issue driver’s licenses to foreign nationals, if they can prove their legal immigration status with a visa, passport or federal employment authorization. Much of the discord revolved around a failed substitute measure from Minority Leader Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, meant to revive a previous plan for instituting two new forms of driver’s licenses. Pacheco’s proposal was transformed substantially through the committee process.
Sharp partisan lines were drawn yet again during further passage of a bill proposing to do away with the state law that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. The House Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority voted 7 to 6 in favor of sending HB 32 on for a House floor vote following five hours of debate that frequently circled back to the controversial federal REAL ID Act. A measure sponsored by Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, also proposes to not allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. It was held over until the next committee meeting. Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, helped craft the House Judiciary Committee’s early-morning substitution for HB 32.