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Republican-led House passes Real ID license bill

SANTA FE – The Republican-led House voted Wednesday to require New Mexicans to obtain driver’s licenses that comply with federal Real ID requirements – except for undocumented immigrants, who would be issued driving privilege cards.

House Bill 99 passed 39-30, with all Republicans and two Democrats in favor and all other Democrats opposed.

It heads to the Democratic-led Senate, which appears ready to stick with a different approach to Real ID: two tiers of driver’s licenses, one Real ID-compliant tier for those who can qualify, and one noncompliant tier for anyone who wants it.

The Senate passed that bipartisan proposal overwhelmingly last year, and it has been introduced again this year.

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Democrats in the House tried during Wednesday’s floor debate to substitute that proposal for House Bill 99, but that move was rejected.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said the House-passed bill faced “certain death” in the Senate.

PACHECO: “This is a far cry from the repeal”

Immigrants’ rights advocates and other statewide organizations denounced the House vote, saying 90,000 New Mexicans would lose their driver’s licenses and be forced to carry a privilege card marked with their immigration status.

They said Republicans “chose discrimination over compromise” and pandered to “a small anti-immigrant base.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez praised the House vote, saying through a spokesman that it “ends the dangerous law of granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and ensures New Mexico citizens can board an aircraft without having to buy a passport.”

The government already has begun clamping down on the use of New Mexico licenses as ID at some federal installations and has said it would do that for airline travel in 2018.

For six years, Martinez has been trying to get lawmakers to repeal the 2003 law that allows immigrants who are here illegally to get driver’s licenses, contending it has made the state a magnet for fraudulent activity.

House Bill 99 was touted as a compromise because it would allow undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s privilege card rather than having driving privileges revoked entirely.

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“This is a far cry from the repeal,” said Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor.

“It solves all the problems. It gets us into compliance with Real ID. We do what our constituents want,” he said.

But Democrats objected that House Bill 99 would force New Mexicans into Real ID-compliant licenses – with no choice in the matter – and stigmatize undocumented immigrants.

They could end up in a “deportation pipeline” because of requirements that certain information be reported by the state to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the bill’s opponents said.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, said New Mexico has a “homegrown population” of hardworking, law-abiding immigrants that under the bill would be relegated to “second-class status.”

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, said the bill “has elements in it which would effectively discourage people from getting driver’s licenses … would result in more people driving unlicensed and more people driving without insurance.”

The bill would require applicants for privilege cards – which would be good for one year – to submit fingerprints, complete a driver’s education course and pass a written and a road test, and prove they either had lived in New Mexico for at least two years or had filed New Mexico personal income taxes the previous year.

It would “allow them to work and to drive,” said Republican Rep. Nora Espinoza of Roswell.

The legislation has prompted concern among some Indian tribes and lawmakers because many Native Americans may lack the documentation for the Real ID-compliant licenses they would be required to get.

“Many Native residents were born at home … and they lack a birth certificate,” said Raymond Concho Jr., first lieutenant governor of Acoma Pueblo, who was at the Capitol on Wednesday. That’s particularly true of older residents, he said.

Real ID-compliant licenses require showing the Motor Vehicle Division a certified copy of a birth certificate, among other documents.

Although the federal Real ID law allows for exemptions, House Bill 99 does not contain any reference to exemptions from the birth certificate requirement.

Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla told the House Judiciary Committee this week that once a bill is passed to bring New Mexico into compliance with Real ID, the department will have to submit a plan to the federal Department of Homeland Security that includes what documents will be acceptable.

“We’d have to negotiate that with the DHS. They’re very much aware that different states have unique situations, and so we would have to present our case as to why we have a population that does not have a birth certificate and (is) unable to obtain one,” she said.

But that’s not much comfort to critics, including Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, a member of Acoma Pueblo. She said many people she knows would opt to get a second-tier license that is not Real ID-compliant – and wouldn’t require a birth certificate – but that’s not an option under House Bill 99.

She also complained that tribes weren’t consulted about the implications of the legislation.

“Native Americans didn’t really have the opportunity to see how it might affect them,” she told the Journal.

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