SANTA FE, N.M.—Republican Gov. Susana Martinez asked a federal agency on Wednesday whether there will be another extension of a looming deadline to comply with a nationwide law imposing security standards for driver's licenses.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Martinez asked for clarification on what will happen to New Mexico—and potentially other states—if they fail by 2013 to meet requirements of the Real ID Act, which was enacted in 2005.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have passed laws prohibiting compliance with the Real ID program.

Martinez said New Mexico isn't in compliance with the law because it issues driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. However, the governor plans to push again in next year's Legislature to change the law. Similar attempts have failed in the Legislature since Martinez took office last year.

Martinez's letter to Napolitano came as states face a Jan. 15, 2013, deadline for meeting federal requirements for certain security features on driver's licenses and identification cards. States also must have a connection to a national database of license information.

A number of states have objected to the high cost of implementing the license requirements and see it as creating a national ID. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union contend the federal law will unnecessarily provide the government with personal information to potentially track individuals.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman said the 2013 deadline for the Real ID requirements applies to states—not individuals.

Starting in December 2014, a state-issued driver's license or ID card can't be used by someone under the age of 50 to enter a federal building or board a commercial airliner unless the license complies with the Real ID requirements. That applies to everyone else starting in December 2017.

Martinez said the state's practice of granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants poses a public safety risk and "undermines the validity and security of every New Mexico driver's license."

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said the governor's statement about Real ID compliance "is a scare tactic meant to advance her agenda of dismantling New Mexico's drivers' license law." He said the federal law is "practically defunct" because so many states oppose its requirements.

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