ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – What you have in your wallet right now is at the center of a big dispute. It’s your driver’s license, and unless something changes, eventually you may not be able to use it to get on an airplane.
When it comes to driver’s licenses that meet federal requirements, New Mexico is one of 18 states that’s in limbo because of the REAL ID Act, a 2005 anti-terrorism law enacted after 9/11.
“Starting January 11, a New Mexico driver’s license will no longer be a form of acceptable identification to enter federal facilities,” said Demesia Padilla, Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department.
That means your New Mexico driver’s license won’t work in places like Los Alamos or a military base starting January 11. Padilla said that battle over New Mexico issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is at the center of this issue.
“The federal government sent us a very strong message that we need to end the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants,” said Padilla.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a phased enforcement plan for the REAL ID Act. There are four phases. No sooner than 2016 comes the fourth phase. It could affect how you get through security at the airport.
“It’s a reality for New Mexicans that unless we become REAL ID compliant, as soon as phase four gets implemented, you will need some other form of identification to get on a plane,” said Padilla.
If nothing is worked out, it is possible that eventually you’ll need a passport as a second form of identification to fly.
Padilla said ultimately the identification issue is for the state legislature to work out.
During the last regular legislative session, Governor Susana Martinez wanted lawmakers to repeal the law that allows New Mexico to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The bill did not pass.
In response, Senator John Arthur Smith, a Democrat who represents District 35, noted that he and Senator Stuart Ingle, a Republican representing District 27, passed a bill that complied with the federal requirements of the REAL ID Act, by a vote of 35 to 5.
“The House had ample time to hear the legislation but did not give it a hearing. This bill had a two-tier license system similar to the one that was successfully instituted in Utah,” Smith said in a statement released on Wednesday. Under the Utah system, an undocumented immigrant does not get the same license as citizen drivers.
“We urge the Governor to put this issue on the call for next session and help pass this bipartisan fix,” Smith said in the statement.