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New Mexico starts issuing Real ID-compliant licenses

Patrons pack the MVD office Monday at Montgomery Plaza in Albuquerque as the state began to issue Real ID-compliant driver's licenses and driving authorization cards

Patrons pack the MVD office Monday at Montgomery Plaza in Albuquerque as the state began to issue Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and driving authorization cards. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

SANTA FE – The state on Monday began issuing Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses along with driving authorization cards, drawing immediate complaints that it is overreaching in what’s being required for the cards.

The new, two-tiered licensing system implements a law passed during this year’s legislative session and signed by the governor in March.

Under the new law, U.S. citizens and others here lawfully have the option of getting licenses that comply with the stricter identification requirements of the federal Real ID law, which are required to enter some secure federal facilities, and, eventually, will be required to board airliners.

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Undocumented immigrants – along with any citizens who prefer not to have Real ID-compliant licenses – are able to get driver’s authorization cards.

New Mexicans don’t have to get the new licenses or authorization cards until their current licenses expire – unless that’s after 2020.

State residents can use licenses that are not Real ID-compliant to board commercial airliners until 2020, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The new system was rolled out without fanfare and apparently caused some confusion. It was implemented a day before the regulations for the new program became effective, according to the Taxation and Revenue Department.

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New Mexico is now issuing Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses for citizens. (Source: New Mexico Taxation And Revenue Department)

The regulations were filed with the State Records Center on Nov. 1 and become effective today, according to Tiffany Smyth, a spokeswoman for the department.

The department couldn’t immediately say how many people applied for the new licenses on Monday.

Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrants’ rights group, alleged that the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez is overstepping its authority by requiring applicants for the driving authorization card – citizens and noncitizens – to provide too much paperwork.

The organization said it also had heard from undocumented immigrants who currently have New Mexico licenses but were asked to submit fingerprints to obtain driver’s authorization cards. The new law does not require current license-holders to submit fingerprints to get driver’s cards; only those who can’t prove they’re here legally and who don’t currently have licenses are required to submit them.

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Smyth said in an email that MVD is not requiring fingerprints from card applicants if their licenses are valid. But if the licenses are expired, the applicants are treated as first-time applicants and must submit fingerprints, she said.

She also said that Motor Vehicle Division field offices have required original documents for license renewals since June 1, 2015.

“We encourage everyone to review the required documents before they come into the MVD. This will make their visit as smooth as possible,” she said.

The Taxation and Revenue Department warned in a statement last month that MVD customers “should anticipate higher wait times in the weeks following rollout.”

“Our sense is there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding,” said Emmanuelle “Neza” Leal, a spokesman for Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

That was intensified by not being able to review the final version of the regulations on Monday, he said.

Statewide civil rights and domestic violence groups and advocates for the homeless complained last month that documentation requirements the state proposed to implement the new law were excessive and could keep the most vulnerable residents from getting licenses or IDs.

The two-tiered system is a bipartisan compromise that ended five years of feuding over Martinez’s efforts to do away with the state’s issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The same two-tiered system applies for identification cards issued by the MVD.

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