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Legislators, governor gear up for driver’s license fight

New Mexico driver's licenses are no longer considered sufficient identification at White Sands Missile Range, above, or Sandia National Laboratories. (Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico driver’s licenses are no longer considered sufficient identification at White Sands Missile Range, above, or Sandia National Laboratories. (Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Republican-backed legislation that would end driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the country illegally – providing them instead with more limited driving privilege cards – was filed Monday, setting the stage for a clash in the 30-day session that begins in a week.

GOP Gov. Susana Martinez and the Republican-led state House are promoting the plan as a way to bring New Mexico into compliance with the stricter identification requirements of the federal Real ID law, and it was filed even as a couple of federal installations began clamping down on the use of state licenses as ID.

As of Monday, New Mexico licenses alone were no longer considered sufficient identification at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range and Sandia National Laboratories. The state’s Air Force bases were still accepting the licenses, pending further word from the Department of Defense.

a01_jd_12jan_lic1The Legislature’s Democrats, who control the Senate, are expected to offer a competing proposal in the session: Keep issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are here illegally but make clear the licenses can’t be used for official federal purposes.

The Senate passed a similar proposal last year with support from most Republicans in that chamber.

Under both the House and Senate proposals, a tier of Real ID-compliant licenses would be created for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who can prove their lawful status.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says New Mexicans will need another form of ID such as a passport to board commercial aircraft beginning two years from now if the state still has not complied with Real ID.

“The Democrats in the Legislature have ignored this problem for far too long, and now we are beginning to suffer the consequences,” said Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for Martinez.

The governor for the past five years has unsuccessfully pressed the Legislature to repeal the 2003 law that allows the issuance of licenses regardless of immigration status, which she says has made the state a magnet for criminals and which she has repeatedly labeled “dangerous.”

This year she is endorsing House Bill 99, filed in advance of the session by Republican Reps. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque and Andy Nuñez of Hatch, repealing the 2003 language and creating a driving privilege card.

It’s based on a Utah law that Martinez said in 2011 she opposed. Lonergan said the “fact that the governor has worked out a compromise similar to the Utah model is just another example of her willingness to find common ground on this issue.”

Guards stand at the Wyoming entrance to Kirtland Air Force Base on Monday morning. Soon it may be harder to enter bases in New Mexico with just a New Mexico driver's license. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Guards stand at the Wyoming entrance to Kirtland Air Force Base on Monday morning. Soon it may be harder to enter bases in New Mexico with just a New Mexico driver’s license. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

House Republicans said in a news release that House Bill 99 “is an effort to compromise with Democrats and get the law off the books by providing undocumented immigrants with a driving privilege card, and not a state driver’s license.”

House Democrats countered that the GOP should get on board with the Senate’s proposal as the compromise, calling House Bill 99 “another example of Gov. Martinez and allies playing political football with this issue.”

Under the new Pacheco bill, the driving privilege card – which would be good for one year – would be issued only to those who cannot prove their lawful immigration status. That’s a significant difference from the Senate proposal, which would make the second tier of non-Real ID-compliant licenses available to immigrants who are here illegally but also to anyone else who qualifies for a Real ID license but doesn’t want one.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said giving U.S. citizens the choice of whether to get a Real ID license is key to the passage of a bill in the Legislature.

“Without this option, all citizens will be forced to stand in line for hours at the MVD just to renew their current licenses,” because they would be required to have Real ID-compliant licenses, he said.

Applicants for the privilege card would have to complete a driver’s education course, pass a written and road test, submit fingerprints, and prove either that they have lived in New Mexico for at least two years or that they have filed New Mexico personal incomes taxes the previous year.

The card could not be used as ID for official federal purposes – a requirement under the Real ID Act – and would not be valid for ID purposes outside the state, according to the legislation.

The state’s highest-profile immigrants’ rights group, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, immediately criticized the Pacheco bill as “senseless and reprehensible,” saying it discriminates against immigrant families.

A card with a different color and design that can be carried only by immigrants who are here illegally “endangers minorities already vulnerable to discrimination and singles them out for deportation by state law enforcement who already report people to ICE,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the organization said.

House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said in a statement that White Sands Missile Range’s announcement that New Mexico licenses are no longer a valid single form of identification is evidence that the Legislature “must pass a law to stop giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

The White Sands announcement said: “The Real ID Act of 2005 … prohibits federal agencies from accepting for official use driver licenses and identity cards from states unless the Department of Homeland Security determines the state meets set standards.”

At Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, a spokeswoman said Monday that the base is “waiting for guidance from the DoD (Department of Defense) for implementation of Real ID.”

A spokesman at Holloman Air Force Base said the base anticipates “there will be some updated guidance in the future,” after which the base would hope to advertise the changes before implementing them.

There was no immediate response from Cannon Air Force Base.

Beginning Monday, visitors to Sandia National Laboratories who wanted to use a current New Mexico driver’s license to get a visitor’s badge also had to provide an additional ID such as a Social Security card, an original or certified birth certificate, a passport, or other federally issued ID such as military ID or a Veterans Health ID card. There was no change for those who already had valid Sandia badges.