Guest Opinion: State needs to ease access to IDs

Las Cruces Sun-News
Nov. 3
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As the state of New Mexico begins rolling out its new federally compliant drivers’ licenses, it is critical that state officials ensure our most vulnerable residents are not unintentionally harmed in the switch to new IDs.

The New Mexico Legislature passed a bill last year to make our driver’s licenses complaint with the federal REAL ID Act. We had been out of compliance because of legislation passed under former Gov. Bill Richardson to grant state licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally.

Gov. Susana Martinez had pressed for years to discontinue that practice, but Democrats and immigrant advocates argued that would have left thousands of people living in a rural state without means of basic transportation. Immigrants would have undoubtedly gone back to driving without a license or insurance, which was common before the law was changed.

That stalemate ended when the federal government began enforcing its deadline, starting by refusing to accept New Mexico licenses for entry into federal facilities and military bases. The compromise reached last year allows those immigrants to get driver’s authorization cards instead of licenses. The cards can be used to drive, but not as federally accepted identification.

The state will begin issuing the new federally compliant licenses to U.S. citizens this month, but the Taxation and Revenue Department has yet to say what documents will be needed.

To get a driver’s authorization card, immigrants will have to provide proof of residency, proof of identity and submit to a fingerprint. The proposed regulations submitted by the department in September have concerned immigrants rights advocates, who fear the new requirements could end up cutting people off from needed services.

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, noted that the poor and homeless often need identification to access basic services.

“You don’t want people wandering around without IDs who can’t get medical care, who can’t get jobs and get access to lots of different things,” he told The Associated Press.

While the state certainly has an obligation to combat fraud, the list of documents that will now be accepted as proof of residency and identification has been greatly narrowed. Things like military discharge papers, proof of eligibility for welfare benefits, medical insurance cards, school transcripts and infant baptism certificates are no longer acceptable, he said.

Unfortunately, instead of listening to these legitimate concerns, Taxation and Revenue spokesman Ben Cloutier brushed them off as “an ill-informed and incorrect attempt to smear the governor’s initiative.”

This is not about the governor. It’s about the tens of thousands of people who will be impacted by her decisions. If the state Taxation and Revenue Department is deaf to those concerns, we trust the state Legislature will not be, and will take action to ensure that the new requirements are not so restrictive that they prevent state residents from accessing needed services.