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Driver’s license deal at hand

SANTA FE – A compromise bill bringing New Mexico driver’s licenses into compliance with the federal Real ID law passed a Senate committee on Friday and headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

Gov. Susana Martinez praised it as a “hard-fought compromise” and said she supported the legislation.

Its approval by the Senate and the House would end years of wrangling over driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and pave the way for eligible New Mexicans to get Real ID-compliant licenses good for accessing secure federal installations and boarding commercial aircraft.

A compromise on New Mexico driver's licenses would provide a driver authorization card, much like Nevada's

A compromise on New Mexico driver’s licenses would provide a driver authorization card, much like Nevada’s.

The Senate Finance Committee reinstated a limited fingerprint requirement for undocumented immigrants into House Bill 99 and approved it unanimously.

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House Bill 99 would create a Real ID-compliant driver’s license, available to citizens and others legally in the U.S.

It also would provide a driving authorization card for undocumented immigrants and for anyone here legally who wants it.

Martinez praised the bill because it “stops giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.” She has tried since she took office in 2011 to get the Legislature to repeal a 2003 law that allows that.

Immigrants’ rights advocates, however, said Martinez “has lost her six-year war against immigrant families.”

“Immigrants will continue to drive legally in our state long after she is out of office,” said a statement issued by Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide advocacy group.

The bill would require fingerprinting only for undocumented immigrants who don’t already have a New Mexico driver’s license, and only the first time they applied.

The committee scrambled to add an amendment – to meet the administration’s concerns – that would have the Department of Public Safety submit those fingerprints to the FBI for criminal background checks.

That could reveal, for example, whether an applicant had outstanding criminal warrants or was using an alias.

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The legislation does not require state officials to match fingerprints to databases and report information about civil or criminal warrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as the bill did when it passed the House.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said that although fingerprinting of future applicants is “unnecessary and discriminatory,” at least that information can’t be used “to aid in the deportation of our families.”

The House-passed bill supported by Martinez would have provided driving cards only to undocumented immigrants and required citizens and others here legally to get Real ID-compliant licenses. The plan for driving cards was criticized as a “scarlet letter” provision.

Senate committees changed the bill to allow citizens and other legal residents the option of getting either the Real ID license or the card.

Under House Bill 99 as it was amended and approved by the Senate Finance Committee, driving privilege cards for undocumented immigrants would initially be good for two years, then for four years when they were renewed.

Licenses would be good for either four years or eight years.

Licenses and cards would be distinguishable in color or design, and the driving authorization card would be marked “NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES,” as required by the Real ID law.

“This is probably the best compromise we can come up with at this point in time for the state Senate,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told the committee.

He, other legislative leaders and administration officials have been meeting behind closed doors over the past few days to try to reach an agreement.

Martinez said in a statement, “We have worked for five years to do the work that New Mexicans have asked us to do, and tonight we are one step closer to ending the dangerous law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

She said the bill “provides a secure ID, and includes security measures that New Mexicans expect and deserve” and urged lawmakers to support it in its current form.

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