ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The number of state driver’s licenses issued to immigrants has plunged to its lowest level since New Mexico began granting driving privileges to those living in the country illegally, records show.
The figures emerged as lawmakers debate changes to the driver’s license law so it complies with the federal the Real ID Act, which requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities.
The number of licenses given to foreign nationals last year plunged about 73 percent compared with the peak in 2010, according to state documents obtained by The Associated Press. The numbers have been steadily decreasing since more than 15,000 were issued that year. The state gave out 4,026 in 2015, documents said.
There’s no clear explanation for the decrease.
State officials do not know how many licenses went to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally because applicants aren’t required to submit information on immigration status. Some could have legal residency.
Other states with similar driving laws also have seen decreases. Utah began issuing one-year driving-privilege cards to immigrants living in the country illegally in 2005, two years after New Mexico started issuing licenses to foreign nationals.
Utah saw a six-year low last year in the number of driving-privilege cards issued to immigrants, according to Utah data obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
In New Mexico, the drop in license numbers comes as the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-led House work to pass a proposal that would put the state in line with the tougher federal ID standards.
After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last year that New Mexico wouldn’t get an extension from the tougher Real ID requirements, some military installations, such as White Sands Missile Range, stopped accepting state driver’s licenses for entrance.
Commercial airplane flights will stop accepting current New Mexico driver’s licenses by 2018, federal officials said.