In New Mexico, illegal immigrants will no longer be able to obtain a state driver’s license — but they will have access to a driver’s authorization card.
After a heated five-year struggle with legislative Democrats, RepublicanGov. Susana Martinez finally checked off the item at the top of her to-do list: reforming the increasingly problematic 2003 law that let illegal immigrants obtain driver’s licenses.
Ms. Martinez said in a statement Tuesday that she “looks forward” to signing House Bill 99, which won final approval Monday with a 65-1 vote in the House, just days before the end of the brief 30-day legislative session.
“For five long years, I have fought hard to do what the people of New Mexico have demanded — to end this dangerous law that made our state a magnet for illegal immigrants from all over the world,” Ms. Martinezsaid in a Facebook post.
“Under this bill, no illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license, and they can only get a driver’s permit if they can prove residency, provide fingerprints, and subject themselves to background checks. And those limited permits cannot be used for identification purposes, such as to board an airplane,” she said.
Forcing the state legislature’s hand was the federal Department of Homeland Security, which began in January rejecting New Mexico driver’s licenses as a former of valid identification to enter federal facilities, saying they were not compliant with federal Real ID Act.
New Mexico had previously received an extension in implementing the 2005 law’s requirements, but the department refused last year to grant another extension.
The department had also warned that the New Mexico driver’s licenses would no longer be accepted as identification for boarding commercial domestic flights starting in January 2018.
The outcry was immediate, particularly among veterans who complained that they now had to bring their passports to enter the Veterans Administration and its medical facilities.
Also claiming victory were Democratic legislators and organizers of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, who had fought Ms. Martinez’s previous push for an outright repeal of the 2003 law.
“The Governor’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach did not work,” said the group in a Monday statement. “We are proud that legislators continued to stand up to her anti-immigrant agenda and successfully coalesced around a non-discriminatory, practical and compassionate approach.”
The legislation creates a two-tier system in which citizens and legal residents may obtain Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses. A driver’s authorization card, which would not be accepted as valid federal identification, would be available to illegal immigrants or any other qualified driver.
Those applying for the driver’s authorization card would have to prove their identity and residency, but not their citizenship status.
The bill also requires applicants for the license and the card to give their full legal names to protect against fraud. Critics say the state had become Ground Zero for crime rings that fraudulently obtain licenses for illegal aliens, who then use the licenses to qualify for driver’s licenses in other states.
The measure “ensures that New Mexico will no longer be a magnet for fraud rings that peddle and sell driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants from all over the world; not only will this protect public safety in New Mexico, but it will enhance our national security as well,” said the New Mexico House GOP in a statement.