Saturday, September 16, 2006
N.M. Is Told to Defy Act
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES A politically diverse panel urged state legislators Friday to take a simple but direct approach to the federal Real ID Act: Ignore it.
Members of the Legislature's Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee after hearing testimony during which panel members derided the law as an unfunded federal mandate that creates a defacto national ID said they were receptive to the idea.
"It seems like the kind of situation where we ought to be planning some kind of tea party and dumping something into the Rio Grande," quipped Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
Critics argued that the consequences of ignoring the Real ID Act are manageable. Where states choose not to comply, that state's drivers' licenses and ID cards could not be used to board airplanes, enter military bases or for other federal purposes. But passports could be used for those purposes.
"You do not have to comply with the Real ID Act. ... Nationwide, there is a lot of momentum here," said Christopher Calabrese, a New York-based attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005 as an anti-terrorism measure, sets federal standards for issuing drivers' licenses. It would effectively end New Mexico's practice of issuing drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The law directs states to:
Require proof of an applicant's citizenship or lawful immigration status.
Verify the authenticity of all documents.
Store electronic images of all identifying documents.
Make databases accessible to all other states.
The law directs states to comply by May 2008.
Implementing Real ID in New Mexico would cost an estimated $13 million in non-recurring expenses and $6 million in annually recurring expenses, said Kenneth Ortiz, director of the state Motor Vehicle Division.
At its annual meeting in Taos last month, the New Mexico Municipal League passed a resolution calling for the repeal of the Real ID Act. The law has also been opposed by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
"There will be a domino effect. As one state says they will not do this, others will follow suit," Calabrese said.
Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the conservative Cato Institute, said the standardized ID moves the United States closer to a "surveillance society" and he said the national ID would not thwart terrorist activity.
"It's up to folks like you to push back and make them (Congress) see the light," he told the legislators.