Driver's license compromise heads to governor

Uriel J. Garcia
The Santa Fe New Mexican
From left, Sen. Michael S. Sanchez, D-Belen, Senate majority floor leader, and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, the Senate minority floor leader, speak on the Senate floor before a vote on Saturday on House Bill 99, which would make New Mexico compliant with the federal Real ID Act.

SANTA FE — The state House of Representatives sent a bill to Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday that would make New Mexico compliant with the federal Real ID Act and continue to allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive, ending a bitter five-year political battle.

The 65-1 vote signifies one of the greater accomplishments by lawmakers in the 30-day legislative session, which ends Thursday.

Immigrant advocates and Martinez, who has said she will sign the bill into law, were both satisfied with the legislation because it allows undocumented immigrants to drive and makes the state Real ID-compliant.

Under the bill, U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status have the option to get a Real ID-compliant license. Those who don't want a Real ID license and undocumented immigrants who can't qualify for one could get a driving-authorization card, but it would not be recognized as identification by some federal agencies.

The Real ID-compliant licenses are needed to enter secure federal facilities and to board a commercial plane, flying domestically.

The bill, which was heavily amended by Senate Democrats, also requires undocumented immigrants to provide their fingerprints to the state Motor Vehicle Division for a criminal background check in order to get the driving card. If the prints don't match the name in data bases or the applicant has an outstanding warrant, those issues must be resolved before they could get a driving card.

The estimated 90,000 undocumented immigrants who already have a driver's license would be grandfathered into the system to get a driving card without having to provide their fingerprints.

Since 2011, Martinez asked lawmakers to repeal a 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a license, because she said it was a dangerous practice. This year, the governor and Republican lawmakers softened their tone saying undocumented immigrants could still drive legally with a driving card.

The Real ID Act of 2005 established minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses. The standards include a Social Security number and proof of legal U.S. citizenship or legal admittance to the country. The federal government has repeatedly delayed enforcement. Currently it is saying that if the state is not compliant by 2018, air passengers will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification, such as a passport, on domestic flights. As of January 2016, 23 states were compliant.