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New Mexico gets Real ID extension

SANTA FE – New Mexico has gotten another extension to comply with the federal Real ID Act, meaning current driver’s licenses should be good again as identification at secure federal facilities.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has OK’d the extension through Oct. 10 of this year.

That followed the Legislature’s recent passage of a bill to bring the state into compliance with the stricter identification requirements of Real ID.

The bill is awaiting action by Martinez, who has told federal officials she will sign it. The deadline for signing or vetoing bills passed during the 30-day session that ended last week is March 9.

In the meantime, the governor asked Homeland Security officials last week to approve an extension.

The officials said in a letter to Martinez that DHS “recognizes your efforts in enhancing the security of New Mexico driver’s licenses and identification cards.”

“For the duration of this extension, Federal agencies may accept New Mexico-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards for official purposes in accordance with the phased enforcement schedule and existing agency policies,” the letter said.

But it wasn’t immediately clear what changes would be made because of Friday’s extension.

Sandia National Laboratories learned of the extension letter Friday and was working with its oversight agency, the Department of Energy, to decide when it would again recognize New Mexico driver’s licenses, said laboratories spokeswoman Heather Clark.

The federal government began clamping down in January on the use of New Mexico licenses for entering certain secure federal facilities that require ID.

That’s because the state’s previous extension expired in October, a request for another one was denied, and federal officials provided a three-month grace period before enforcement.

The impact of the enforcement has varied from facility to facility, with some military bases not accepting driver’s licenses as ID.

The next step is for state officials to submit a plan to DHS for implementing the new driver’s license system outlined in House Bill 99.

“We’re reviewing the bill, and what we need to do to come into compliance, and formulating the plan,” said Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division.

The state could ask for another extension in October; it would have to show it was making progress toward compliance with Real ID.

Under the legislation, New Mexico would issue Real ID-compliant licenses to any citizens or others with legal presence who wanted them and could provide the required documentation. Driving authorization cards – which could not be used for official federal purposes – would be issued to undocumented immigrants and any citizens who wanted them.

Under the legislation, the Taxation and Revenue Department would begin issuing Real ID-compliant licenses no later than about mid-November.

But the plan is that New Mexicans who want to be Real ID-compliant would keep their current licenses until they expired – or until 2020, whichever came first – and then get new licenses.

Martinez has wanted since she took office in 2011 to do away with the 2003 state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get licenses, and she hailed House Bill 99 for doing that. At the same time, immigrants’ rights advocates said the legislation was a victory for undocumented residents because they can continue to drive legally.

Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation, who had urged DHS last week to grant the extension, said they were pleased with the news.

“Real ID has caused unnecessary confusion and uncertainty for many New Mexicans, and this extension from the Department of Homeland Security means we can finally move out of limbo,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.