Senate must act on driver's license compromise
After years of debate, it’s time to settle the issue of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. For years, New Mexicans have overwhelming voiced their demand that we end the dangerous practice of granting driver’s licenses to people in this country illegally.
House Republicans have consistently fought to repeal the ill-conceived law that permitted illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses, but Senate Democrats continue to insist that illegal immigrants be allowed to have driver’s licenses identical to licenses issued to citizens and residents with lawful status.
New Mexico is one of only two states in the country that issues the same licenses to citizens and immigrants with lawful status, and illegal immigrants alike. As a result, New Mexico driver’s licenses have become a black market commodity. Criminal rings have come to New Mexico to obtain and distribute our driver’s licenses to individuals across the country. In the past six months alone, the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department has identified 199 cases of individuals residing outside of our state trying to get a New Mexico driver’s license.
According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, there are an estimated 70,000 unauthorized men, women and children in New Mexico. However, the New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department reports it has recorded 121,000 active driver’s licenses issued to foreign nationals. Where are those extra 59,000 drivers? Most likely, they are not in New Mexico.
It’s past time to do something about this situation. So, Rep. Andy Nuñez and I crafted a compromise bill that addresses many of the concerns that have been raised by New Mexicans. First, it will stop giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Second, it will bring New Mexico into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Third, it will create a driving privilege card for illegal immigrants. This compromise would provide New Mexicans with a secure ID while preserving state-sanctioned driving privileges for illegal immigrants.
The REAL ID Act explicitly states that a state can issue a license or identification card to individuals who cannot satisfy lawful status documentation requirements if the license or identification card “clearly states on its face that it may not be accepted by a Federal agency for federal identification” and “uses a unique design or color indicator to alert Federal agency and other law enforcement personnel that it may not be accepted for any such purpose.” HB 99 meets this requirement. The proposal passed by the Senate last year does not.
In the past few weeks, New Mexicans have been told that their current driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted for entry onto military bases and federal facilities across the country. Already, White Sands Missile Range has announced that it will no longer accept New Mexico driver’s licenses as identification. The U.S. Department of Defense has also stated that our driver’s licenses cannot be used to gain access to military bases nationwide.
We can’t continue this stalemate over New Mexico’s driver’s licenses. Don’t pay attention to the false rhetoric being used to spread fear about this bill. The compromise we have developed ends the dangerous practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, provides New Mexicans with secure identification, and complies with the law.
A few years ago, some Senate Democrats called for New Mexico to implement a two-tier license system similar to the one used in Utah. Our bill is modeled on the Utah approach. It’s already passed the House of Representatives. I urge the Senate to take up this matter soon. Let’s get this done for New Mexico.