After weeks of speculation about a compromise on changing a 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver's licenses, Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales introduced a bill Monday that would alter the state's licensing system.
Senate Bill 521 quickly was endorsed by Gov. Susana Martinez, whose spokesman called it "a very reasonable compromise."
However, Marcela Diaz of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a local advocacy group for immigrants, complained that "this so-called compromise is an insult to those who are trying to create fair and workable solutions that integrate immigrant families into our state's public safety and anti-[drunken-driving] efforts."
Under the bill, the Motor Vehicles Division would create two types of driver's licenses. One class of license would comply with the federal Real ID Act, which requires stringent proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport. The license would be good for as long as eight years.
The other type of license would require a foreign national to show proof of identity and proof that they have lived in New Mexico for at least six consecutive months and have completed a driver's education course. These licenses would expire after one year. Applicants couldn't use as proof of identity a driver's license from another state that isn't intended for identification purposes.
Undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and qualify for "Deferred Action Childhood Arrival" status under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama would be allowed to apply for the non-Real ID license.
Diaz told reporters Tuesday that this was no real concession. She said immigrants who qualify for deferred-action status are issued Social Security cards, so they are eligible for driver's licenses.
Diaz said the new bill "is actually worse than the driver's license bill introduced in the House." That bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, was killed in a House committee last month. Ingle's bill, Diaz said, "manages to discriminate against immigrant youth who are lawfully present in the United States by forcing them to apply for a discriminatory one-year license."
Under the federal Real ID Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a driver's license used to board an airline flight or enter a federal building would have to be Real ID-compliant. However, the deadline for enforcing this law has repeatedly been delayed. Only a handful of states -- New Mexico not being one -- so far have driver's licenses that comply with that law.
Foreign nationals who have passports or visas could be issued this type of license, though the license would only be valid for the duration of the person's authorized period of admission to the U.S.
Martinez said during her campaign for election as governor that she wants to repeal the law that authorizes licenses for undocumented immigrants. However, repeal efforts have failed during the past two sessions of the Legislature. In the statement to reporters Wednesday, governor's spokesman Enrique Knell noted that the governor has worked closely with Ingle and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, on the new bill.
As he said early in the session, Ingle said Wednesday that he and Smith originally wanted a bill similar to the law in Utah, which issues regular driver's licenses to citizens and a driver's permit to the undocumented. These Utah permits are not supposed to be used for identification.
Ingle said he had drafted one such proposed bill. "John Arthur and I took that to the governor," he said. However, negotiations with the Governor's Office led to the current form of SB 521.
"It's a start," Ingle said of the bill. "There's a process. It can be amended."
SB 521 was referred to the Senate Public Affairs Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In addition to Smith, the bill's co-sponsors include Senate President pro-tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces; Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque; and Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal.
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