Gov. Susana Martinez has signed into law a measure that puts New Mexico driver’s licenses in line with the stricter requirements of the federal Real ID Act and ends the fractious, five-year debate over whether undocumented immigrants should legally drive.
Martinez signed House Bill 99 on Tuesday at a news conference at the Albuquerque International Sunport.
“This has never been an immigration bill – it’s always been a public safety bill,” the governor said. “What we want to do is not be a magnet for crime.”
Martinez has insisted since she was first elected in 2010 that the state law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses led to fraudulent activity.
She tried to get legislators to undo the law, initially asking for licenses already held by undocumented immigrants to be revoked, and later asking that the issuance of those licenses be halted.
This year, she supported a bipartisan compromise under which undocumented immigrants – along with any citizens who want them – will be able to get driving authorization cards.
The plan also provides Real ID-compliant licenses for citizens and others with lawful presence who want them and can provide the required documentation, including certified copies of birth certificates and documents with Social Security numbers.
Martinez pointed to the arrest of four Mexican nationals for allegedly using false residency documents to try to get driver’s licenses as evidence of the need for “secure ID.”
She said the new law is about “stopping the bad guys” and “stopping the dangerous practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”
Immigrants’ rights advocates – who support the new law – said it was Martinez’s initial proposals “to put tens of thousands of unlicensed drivers on New Mexico’s roads” that was dangerous.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido also said the driving authorization cards are effectively non-Real ID-compliant licenses, and noted that only first-time applicants – not current license-holders – would have to be fingerprinted to get them.
And the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said it was pleased that under the new law, New Mexicans can “opt out of Real ID while still retaining driving privileges.”
Now the state must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that outlines how the new driver’s license system will be implemented.
In the meantime, because of the new law, the state has received an extension for compliance with Real ID. That means current state driver’s licenses are once again acceptable as ID at secure federal installations.
The federal government began clamping down in January on the use of New Mexico licenses as valid ID for getting into some military bases and facilities.
The Martinez administration’s plan is to issue the new Real ID licenses and the driving authorization cards once drivers’ current licenses expire.
Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla said her department has no firm date when the licenses will start to be issued but hopes it is in the “very near future.”
Today is the deadline for the governor to sign or veto bills passed in the 30-day session that ended Feb. 18.
On Tuesday, she also signed:
- Senate Bill 147: Making the Spaceport Authority eligible for a governmental liquor license. The Spaceport Authority wants to diversify its revenue sources by expanding the non-aerospace special events – conferences, concerts, and receptions, for example – held at the spaceport.
- Senate Bill 193 – Allowing the consumption of alcoholic beverages in controlled access areas on the grounds of ski areas. Currently, ski areas can have liquor licenses that allow alcohol to be served in lodges or other buildings.
- Senate Bill 163 – Allowing liquor sellers with package rights – selling by the bottle for off-premise consumption – to fill and sell reusable growlers of beer and hard cider.
- Senate Bill 189 – Authorizing the New Mexico Finance Authority to issue $5 million in cigarette tax revenue bonds for Department of Health facilities, including completing the Meadows, a long-term care facility in Las Vegas.
- Senate Bill 110 – Allowing the New Mexico Forestry Division to be reimbursed by the federal government for forest thinning and other conservation work.
- Senate Bill 128 – Making New Mexico a member of the Interstate Compact for the Prevention and Control of Forest Fires.