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Editorial: NM must get Real ID license reform in gear

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FOR THE RECORD: This editorial, in support of HB 127, which would have changed New Mexico law regarding the issuance of drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, incorrectly stated who would be eligible for a driver’s permit under the proposed legislation.

The bill, which was tabled Saturday by the House Labor and Human Resources Committee, would have granted driver’s licenses to New Mexico residents who are American citizens or are immigrants in the country legally, and limited driving permits to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and have been granted federal status under “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” regulations. No other undocumented immigrants would have qualified for a driving permit.

Today the House Labor and Human Resources Committee is scheduled to discuss HB 127, a proposal from Albuquerque Republican Paul Pacheco to finally put New Mexico in compliance with the federal Real ID Act, adopted after it was discovered “18 of the 19 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 state-issued IDs amongst them that enabled them to more easily board planes on the morning of 9/11.”

And while Real ID was passed in 2008, and enforcement deferred until last month, New Mexico remains one of the very few states in “noncompliance status.”

As it has for three years, much of the discussion in Santa Fe today will likely go off point and focus on the hardships the state will cause if it stops handing out state-of-the-art government ID to all comers – including undocumented immigrants who simply want to drive their children to school.

Yet Pacheco’s plan provides for a driving permit for individuals who do not have adequate documentation they are in the country legally, while reserving driver’s licenses that meet federal requirements for official federal purposes – like boarding a plane or entering a federal facility – for those who do.

So there is no legitimate hardship. And any perceived hardship is not a concern of the United States, which was brutally attacked by terrorists bent on jihad in 2001.

According to Senate testimony by the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, “due to the ease with which fraud was used to obtain legitimate IDs that helped the hijackers embed and assimilate in the U.S. for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist act, the 9/11 Commission recommended that ‘the federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.’ … The delay in compliance creates vulnerabilities and makes us less safe. No further delay should be authorized, rather compliance should be accelerated.”

The New Mexico Legislature has talked this issue to death; court dockets and jails show the state has become a destination for human smugglers gouging immigrants from countries spanning the globe; and on July 21 New Mexicans will be hard pressed to comply with the full enforcement of Real ID at the many federal facilities that fill the state.

HB 127 balances security with pragmatic compassion, putting the state in compliance with federal law while providing driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. That satisfies all safety, insurance and other needs proponents have always argued were the reason for granting the licenses. It would be unconscionable for lawmakers to again duck their responsibility to pass this necessary law, considering that would put many legal New Mexico residents’ ability to get to work/do business in jeopardy this summer.

Another delay should not be an option.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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