REAL ID bipartisan compromise passes 2nd test

Russell Contreras
The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Following an emotional meeting where senators revealed they were getting racist emails, a second Senate committee passed Friday a bipartisan proposal aimed at making New Mexico compliant under the federal REAL ID Act.

People protest at anti-discrimination rally outside of the State Capitol on Jan. 25.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a measure that would create a “driver’s authorization card,” despite threats from House Republicans that the bill wouldn’t get through their chamber without requiring immigrants to submit fingerprints.

Under the proposal, immigrants living in the country illegally would be allowed to apply for that card but could no longer get a New Mexico driver’s license. Residents would have the option of also applying for the card or a REAL ID complaint license.

The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. New Mexico has no such requirement and allows immigrants to get state driver’s licenses regardless of legal status.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, praised lawmakers from reaching an agreement after months of intense public reaction to moves by the Obama Administration to limit federal access for holders of New Mexico driver’s licenses.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in October that New Mexico wouldn’t get an extension from strict REAL ID mandates.

Sanchez said he had received a number of racist calls and letters blaming him for the partisan stalemate to make the state compliant.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has faulted Democrats for the problem since they had blocked her efforts to repeal a law that allows immigrants in the country illegally to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses.

“I get calls that say, ‘go back to Mexico’,” said Sanchez, who was born in New Mexico. “I get calls that say I’m a member of a (Mexican drug) cartel…I’ve never seen such ugly rhetoric coming from some residents of this state.”

Sanchez said he was disappointed that some of the “hate” even was coming from U.S. Hispanics toward Mexican immigrants living in the country illegally.

“They were the ones (who) weren’t allowed to use the bathroom because they were brown,” Sanchez said, referring to segregation in the Southwest.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, also urged senators to pass a REAL ID fix and mentioned that someone close to him couldn’t visit a dying father because Fort Bliss in El Paso was no longer accepting New Mexico driver’s licenses from entry.

Since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last year that New Mexico wouldn’t get an extension from the tougher requirements, some military installations, such as White Sands Missile Range, have stopped accepting state driver’s licenses for entrance.

Commercial airplane flights will stop accepting current New Mexico driver’s licenses by 2018, federal officials said.

“I ask…the governor to remember where she came from,” Cervantes said, referring to Martinez’s link to a Hispanic neighborhood in El Paso, Texas. “Let’s remember our own family roots.”

Martinez has contended that her efforts to reform the state’s driver’s license law had little to do with immigration and more about stopping fraud.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, sponsors of the bipartisan bill, signaled Friday there were ongoing negotiations with House Republicans to add amendments.

Martinez has vowed to veto any measure that doesn’t include requirements to fingerprint immigrants seeking driver’s cards.