“What the hell is this?” asked an excited Kathrina Holdren, who had just left the Motor Vehicle Division office at Coors and Rio Bravo SW. “I thought I had everything they needed.”
Holdren simply wanted to exchange her vertical license, which was expiring Wednesday, for the horizontal one she became eligible for when she turned 21. She brought a certificate from a driving school to show she passed a driving test, as well as her old driver’s license and her passport. She still needs to find her Social Security card, birth certificate and utility bills with her address – difficult because “everything is paperless.”
“If I’d known about these new requirements in advance,” she said, “I would have been more prepared and wouldn’t have wasted my time.”
Holdren is not alone. At MVD field offices around Albuquerque, people trying to renew their licenses or get a license for the first time, were either unaware that the law had changed or were unaware and confused about the additional paperwork required.
New Mexico this week began issuing two types of driving or ID credentials. One type complies with the stricter requirements of the federal Real ID law and is necessary for people enter some secure federal facilities and will eventually be required to board commercial airliners. The other, a driving authorization card, is not Real ID-compliant and cannot be used for federal purposes.
Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards are available to citizens and others who are lawfully in the U.S. The noncompliant driving authorization cards are available to citizens and others here lawfully, as well as to undocumented immigrants.
New Mexicans don’t have to get new licenses until their current licenses expire, unless that is after 2020.
The new licenses and IDs must be obtained in person at Motor Vehicle Division offices. The MVD recommends bringing along current licenses or ID cards when applying for new ones, but several pieces of documentation are also required. Some legislators and organizations say that many of the documents for both types of cards are nearly the same, and that has them irritated and frustrated.
The two-tier framework for the licenses was part of a compromise bill passed by the Legislature and met a goal long pushed by Gov. Susana Martinez for meeting federal Real ID requirements.
“The Legislature was very clear. We did not want to confuse with the Real ID the issuance of a New Mexico driver’s license. We kept the two very distinct,” state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday during a news conference at the Albuquerque office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Now, he said, people are being asked to provide “all sorts of documents” for a simple driving authorization card, “which is not required by the law.” Ortiz y Pino laid the blame for the confusion at the feet of the governor and Demesia Padilla, Cabinet secretary for the state Taxation and Revenue Department, which regulates MVD. “This is an aberration, a total deviation from what we passed,” he said.
Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a statewide immigrant-led civil and worker’s rights organization, said her organization has received numerous complaints in the past few days from citizens and immigrants concerning ill treatment at MVD offices and the extra documentation they are being asked to provide.
She pointed to incidents in which people who still had valid New Mexico licenses came in for a driving authorization card and were told they needed to submit to fingerprinting. The law, Diaz said, requires fingerprinting only when a driver’s license has expired or when a person cannot establish lawful status.
“We are not requiring fingerprints from those who have a valid New Mexico driver’s license; but if their license has expired then they are required to apply as a first-time applicant, and that requires fingerprints if they do not establish lawful status,” said Tiffany Smyth, a spokeswoman for state Taxation and Revenue.
The paperwork requirement for the driving authorization cards was set because the state has an interest in knowing whom the cards are issued to, and law enforcement agencies depend on the MVD’s database, she said.
People at local MVD offices Wednesday didn’t express much interest in the politics of the new law, only that they were being inconvenienced.
Three days, three trips to the San Mateo MVD office. That’s how long Laguna Pueblo resident Rebecca Touchin had been trying to get a license. When pueblo officials adopted a 911 emergency phone system, “they renumbered all the houses, so my utility bills now have a different address than other paperwork I brought with me.” That paperwork included a birth certificate, Social Security card, tribal identification papers and the offending utility bills.
“This is the worst. I had no idea,” a clearly frustrated Nohemi Nevarez said, as she left the Rio Bravo MVD office. She brought with her a citizenship certificate, birth certificate, two utility bills, her Social Security card and her passport.
Not good enough. “I’m in the middle of a name change because of a divorce, so now they want to see a divorce decree,” she said. “Then I have to go to a Social Security office to get a new card with my maiden name, because I can’t find the original. And because I became a citizen while I was married, my citizenship papers have my married name, so now I have to go to Immigration and Naturalization to get a new certificate with my maiden name, and I’m told that’s over $300.”
Could it get any worse? Well, yes.
“My driver’s license expires tomorrow.”
(Journal reporter Deborah Baker contributed to this report)