Nunez: Driver’s license law a victory for New Mexicans

Rep. Andy Nunez

Victorious. That’s the one word I would use to describe the 2016 legislative session.

Why? Because for six years, I have sponsored legislation that would stop giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. This year, Rep. Paul Pacheco and I in the House, working with Sens. John Arthur Smith and Stuart Ingle in the Senate, were finally able to get a compromise through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez – bringing home a victory for the people of New Mexico.

New Mexicans, Republicans and Democrats alike, demanded year after year that lawmakers find a solution that would stop the dangerous practice. Since 2005, when those here illegally became eligible for a New Mexico driver’s license, our state has been a magnet for fraud and other illegal activity, putting New Mexicans in danger and threatening national security.

It’s been said time and time again – this is not about immigration, it is about public safety.

For example, the same day the governor signed the bill ending the practice, a scheme plotted by four Mexican nationals was busted by the Taxation and Revenue Department for attempting to use false residency documents to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license.

In 2014, a five-year scheme was unveiled that stretched all the way to New York. Some illegal immigrants reportedly paid up to $2,000 for a New Mexico driver’s license. It doesn’t stop there. In 2012, a 30-person criminal ring was busted for providing over 150 fraudulent drivers’ licenses to people across the country residing here illegally.

That wasn’t the only problem New Mexico drivers’ licenses caused for our state. By the beginning of this year, many military bases announced they would no longer accept New Mexico drivers’ licenses because they were not REAL ID compliant. The federal government also made it clear that unless the governor and lawmakers found a solution, our drivers’ licenses would not be acceptable for any federal purposes, such as flying on an airplane.

Those are just a few examples that highlight why New Mexicans demanded we stop giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. So, working with Governor Martinez, Pacheco and I fought to put an end to the practice this year. But sometimes to effect change, we must compromise.

Because of our efforts to compromise this legislative session, the hard-working people of New Mexico will receive a more secure ID and won’t have to obtain a passport for air travel. New Mexicans can rejoice in the fact that they will now receive REAL ID compliant licenses. While illegal immigrants will be able to receive a driving privilege card so they can continue driving.

First and foremost, the solution will stop the dangerous practice of giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.

It also requires that before illegal immigrants can receive a driver authorization card, they must provide fingerprints and go through a background check. In order to get the driving card, any criminal bench warrants and aliases must also be resolved. Illegal immigrants also must prove identity and residency to receive a driving card.

We worked very hard to ensure that the provisions in the law would prevent New Mexico from continuing to be a magnet for criminal activity and stop attracting criminals who sell drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants across the globe. New Mexicans across the state can rest assured that their IDs are secure and they won’t need a passport to travel in their own country.

I was extremely proud to sponsor this new law and exceedingly grateful to the governor for her signature. Developing a compromise everyone could support was not an easy task, but that’s what happens when both sides of the aisle come together to get work done for New Mexico.

Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, represents District 36 (Dona Ana County) in the New Mexico House of Representatives.