SANTA FE (KRQE) – For the fifth time in four years, Gov. Susana Martinez’s push to repeal the law allowing immigrants here illegally to get state driver’s licenses looks unlikely to get to her desk.
But the clock is ticking on a problem that has been tied up in the political fight over this issue.
New Mexico’s practice of allowing immigrants here illegally to get driver’s licenses, means the state’s identification is in violation of the federal REAL ID Act. That law, passed in 2005, was an attempt to create more secure identification around the country.
Under the REAL ID Act, states licenses that don’t meet those federal standards can’t be used to enter federal buildings where ID’s are required or clear airport security.
Because dozens of states, including New Mexico, don’t fully comply, that law hasn’t been enforced.
That may soon change. New Mexico’s federal REAL ID waiver is set to expire in October. Under current guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security, New Mexico licenses wouldn’t work to get into restricted areas of all federal facilities and all federal buildings where ID’s are required starting January 19, 2015.
“I thought if we need a REAL ID compliant license this year, let’s just do that,” said Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants.
Speaker Martinez recently introduced a bill that would do just that.
Under HB 359, New Mexico would have two kinds of licenses. One would be the standard one currently issued, the other would be a REAL ID-compliant license that US citizens and “dreamers”, immigrants brought here illegally as young children, would be eligible for.
That would still allow all immigrants here illegally to get licenses, but would still bring New Mexico into compliance with federal law.
But there’s a catch. Right now, New Mexicans can renew their licenses online. Under HB 359, anyone wishing to get the upgraded license, i.e. the vast majority of state residents, would have to go in-person to the MVD to show they have the necessary documentation to get it.
“Nobody’s required to run into MVD tomorrow,” Speaker Martinez said.
In fact, Speaker Martinez’s expectation is that New Mexico’s federal REAL ID waiver would be extended. His hope is that passing this bill would separate the debate over who should get state licenses from the state being REAL ID compliant.
House Republicans and the governor’s office are panning the idea.
“This proposal does nothing to address the immense fraud, taxpayer waste, and criminal activity plaguing the current system,” said Enrique Knell, Governor Martinez’s spokesperson. “The Governor has put forward a reasonable compromise on this issue that would allow driving privileges for Dreamers, while repealing the dangerous law that continues to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”
Ironically, Speaker Martinez says the idea came from Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, who introduced a similar proposal last session.
HB 359 has a long way to go and little time to get through the legislative process. The session ends next Thursday at noon.