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Governor: Panel ignored ‘true two-tier license’ system

SANTA FE – A driver’s license bill approved by a Senate committee was hailed by supporters as a compromise on a divisive issue, but Republican Gov. Susana Martinez says otherwise.

Her office said Friday that she “absolutely” does not support the bill that cleared the Democratic-controlled Public Affairs Committee Thursday night, in part because it would allow for the continued issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally.

According to a spokesman, the Governor’s Office had worked on a substitute proposal that was circulated among legislators earlier Thursday. It was not considered by the committee.

Instead, the committee passed Senate Bill 653, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming.

It would create a two-tier driver’s license system. New Mexicans – including those here illegally – could continue to get regular driver’s licenses, although they would be stamped “Not For Federal Purposes.”

New Mexicans who wanted to – and who provided a Social Security number or proof they’re here legally – could opt for a license with a different color and design that is intended to comply with federal REAL ID guidelines.

The federal law seeks to standardize state identification cards.

Immigrant rights advocates called the Ingle-Smith bill a “welcome breakthrough” because it wouldn’t discriminate against immigrants or do away with the licenses they are eligible for under a 2003 law.

The proposed substitute that was circulated would have created a REAL ID-compliant license and then a driving privilege card for immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for the governor, called that bill a “true two-tier license system.”

Senate Public Affairs Committee Chairman Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that the proposal could not survive the Senate and that the committee would not vote on it.

“It’s like a declaration, ‘I’m in this country without papers,'” and could put those drivers in jeopardy of being turned over to immigration officials if they were detained, he told the committee.

Having a license or card that identifies someone as an immigrant in the U.S. illegally is typically referred to by opponents as a “scarlet letter” system and immigrant groups have resisted it.

Martinez backs House-passed legislation, House Bill 32, that would halt the issuance of driver’s licenses to those in the U.S. illegally – effectively undoing the 2003 law – and make New Mexico licenses REAL ID-compliant.

The Martinez administration contends the bill that passed Public Affairs would not create licenses that would meet REAL ID standards.

The Taxation and Revenue Department, in an analysis done for legislators, said the bill lacks language required under federal law that governs what foreign nationals must provide when renewing a driver’s license. The analysis also said the bill would allow documents not permissible under federal regulations to be used to establish an applicant’s age.

The bill’s supporters contend the licenses issued under the legislation to those who show proof they are in the U.S. legally would be REAL ID-compliant.

Lonergan said the Ingle-Smith proposal “failed in the House, isn’t REAL ID-compliant and continues to offer a driver’s license to illegal immigrants.” The same proposal was offered, and rejected, during debate over House Bill 32.