Editorial: Now it's the feds turn on REAL ID

Farmington Daily Times

The federal government’s constantly shifting position on enforcement of the REAL ID Act since it was passed 11 years ago has created an unnecessary level of confusion for New Mexico residents.

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That remains the case today, even after our state Legislature has acted to bring our drivers’ licenses into compliance with the federal law. Gov. Susana Martinez was in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and renew the request for a waiver that had been turned down before the start of the legislative session.

We urge the federal government to act quickly on that request, and hope that our senators and representatives in Congress will do all they can to ensure a prompt response.

All New Mexicans were caught off guard when officials at White Sands Missile Range announced on the morning of Jan. 10 that New Mexico driver’s licenses would no longer qualify for entry into the range. Certainly, we knew that was the deadline. But, there had been no indication before then that enforcement would begin immediately, nor public preparations for what that would mean.

That confusion persists to this day. The Associated Press story Tuesday on the governor’s meeting reported, “some military installations, such as White Sands Missile Range, stopped accepting state driver’s licenses to gain entry,” which is accurate but not complete. A state driver’s license alone is not enough for entry, but it is good in combination with a large number of secondary IDs like a Social Security card or any military ID.

Thousands of people from throughout the United States will be coming to WSMR next month for the 27th annual Bataan Memorial Death March. While the vast majority will have all the identification needed, it is still an issue that will generate hesitation and confusion until it is resolved.

Federal officials had said prior to the legislative session that they would be willing to grant New Mexico a waiver if lawmakers simply sent a letter indicating they would be willing to pass a bill resolving the issue. Now that they actually have passed that legislation, we see no reason for further delay.

Gov. Martinez should do her part to move the process along by signing the bill as soon as possible.

Even after the bill is signed, it will take some time to roll out the new licenses. The Department of Homeland Security must approve the plan to implement the new law, and it will take two to three weeks from then to get started, Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla told the AP.

Even after the new licenses are designed, approved and ready for issue, it will still take some time for New Mexicans to make the transition. There is no longer any question as to our state’s willingness to comply with the law, but it won’t all come together by tomorrow.

The federal government can finally bring some clarity to this issue by establishing a lengthy grace period that gives New Mexicans the time they will need to secure the additional documents required for the new licenses, followed by a firm deadline at the end. That would certainly be a nice change.

This editorial was written by the Las Cruces Sun-News.