As she prepares to push anew for repeal of New Mexico's law allowing immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, Gov. Susana Martinez is tying the issue to the state's failure to comply with the federal Real ID Act as the law's latest deadline for compliance approaches.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, Martinez asks whether they once again will extend the deadline for states to comply with the driver's license rules, and she inquires "about the implications of a state-issued ID that is not deemed secure by the federal government."
New Mexico is one of 17 states that don't meet the specifications in the act, signed into law in 2005, because immigrants here can get a license with a Mexican government-issued identification or a taxpayer identification number. Under detailed Real ID regulations, which set out to standardize the driver's license system nationwide, documentation of legal residency status is required to obtain a license. States also must issue a specific type of ID and must have a connection to a national database of license information.
If a state fails to comply with the act by the deadline, which has been extended several times, driver's licenses issued by the state would be rendered useless for purposes such as airline travel and entering federal buildings. This means all New Mexicans intending to board a flight -- even for travel within the U.S. -- would have to use a passport as official identification if the state fails to meet the rules' requirements.
The latest deadline for states to comply with the federal ID rules, proposed under the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, is Jan. 15, 2013.
"Unfortunately, New Mexico's practice of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants not only poses a significant and well-documented public safety threat, it also undermines the validity and security of every New Mexico driver's license," Martinez wrote in a letter Thursday to U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials. "It's deeply concerning that New Mexicans who work at our labs, get on an airplane, or need to show identification at any other federal facility will no longer be able to use their driver's license to do so."
The Republican governor said the situation, especially for those who work at federal facilities and need to show identification to gain entrance, is a burden. "This is not just an inconvenience; it is an incredible burden on our citizens and our businesses, and on our ability to be competitive with our neighboring states."
However, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman said the Department of Homeland Security is expected to extend the deadline again, since many states are still not in compliance with the rules.
In the past, Martinez has pushed for a repeal of the state law granting licenses to immigrants, which New Mexico has had since 2003. Lawmakers largely have resisted. She plans to again do so in the 2013 legislative session, which doesn't start until after the Jan. 15 deadline to comply with the Real ID Act. But the governor isn't considering a special session to address the issue, a spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union called Martinez's letter a "scare tactic meant to advance her agenda of dismantling New Mexico's drivers' license law."
"The governor should not use the practically defunct Real ID law to make baseless accusations about a drivers' license law our Legislature passed to improve public safety," Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico ACLU, said in a statement headlined "Real ID is dead."
Simonson said 25 states have approved resolutions rejecting the Real ID Act, and in 15 states, lawmakers have made it illegal to comply with the act.
"The government cannot afford to ban 20 percent of the total population from entering a federal building or boarding a plane back home for the winter holidays," Simonson said.
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