In 2003, community and faith groups, victims’ rights advocates, and law enforcement officials came together to promote a law requiring undocumented immigrant drivers to apply for a driver’s license. Since then, about 85,000 immigrants have successfully applied, taking the eye, written and road exams, registering their vehicles, and purchasing auto insurance. There have been several attempts to repeal this law in the last three years, but citing the disastrous consequences for public safety, lawmakers have upheld it.
Meanwhile, in 2013, eight others states and Washington DC followed New Mexico's lead by passing laws to license undocumented immigrant drivers. They did this with strong support from Democrats, Republicans, and law enforcement agencies because those states were experiencing considerable public safety problems as a result of unlicensed drivers.
- Victims and witness are more likely to call the police and participate in investigations. Victims also need a valid ID to go to court and request restraining orders.
- Licensed immigrants are more likely to stay and render aid at the scene of an accident.
- During stops or investigations, police can quickly identify immigrants and check their record without having to examine documents in foreign languages. This makes officers safer and more efficient.
- Local, state and federal law enforcement can track outstanding warrants, repeat offenders, child support delinquents, and citations of immigrant drivers.
- All law enforcement, including federal immigration agents, can access MVD records to obtain photos, information, and last known addresses for individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.
- Immigrant drivers under the age of 25 must take a DWI prevention course and exam before applying for a license.
- Immigrant drivers under the age of 18 are subject to a graduated licensing system that requires a record clean of alcohol and drug-related offenses.
- The state can keep track of immigrants’ DWI violations, revocations, interlock and sentence compliance, etc.
- Alcohol and tobacco vendors can more accurately determine a person’s age using a state issued driver's license rather than foreign documents.
- Since 2003, New Mexico has seen a significant decrease in alcohol-related crashes, injuries, and deaths. Alcohol-involved crashes decreased about 29%, and fatalities in those crashes decreased about 30%.
- The state-tabulated uninsured motorist rate has decreased from 21% in 2003 to about 9% today, saving money for all New Mexicans in insurance premiums.
- Immigrants without Social Security Numbers have contributed well over $25 million to MVD in license and registration fees.
- In order to obtain an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS, one of the requirements to apply for a license, an immigrant must file their federal income taxes. Immigrants also use the ITIN to pay state income taxes, contributing millions to New Mexico’s tax base.
- In December 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that only 28 states were in full compliance with Real ID Act standards, making it impossible to enforce provisions regarding the validity of licenses before the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 25 states have passed laws or resolutions prohibiting full implementation of the REAL ID Act.
- In January 2016, DHS postponed REAL ID enforcement of travel restrictions for a sixth time until at least 2018. The federal government will continue to allow drivers’ licenses from all states to board commercial planes.
- The state does not have to force New Mexicans to obtain a REAL ID license in order to be REAL ID compliant. The REAL ID ACT allows states to give residents a choice. In order to obtain a driver's license that is recognized by certain federal agencies, the federal law mandates that applicants re-apply for a license in person with several documents proving birthplace, social security number, citizenship status, and residency (a birth certificate or a passport would be required documents to satisfy this requirement). Because many residents wouldn't need or qualify for a REAL ID compliant license, the Act allows states to create a non-REAL ID compliant license that states "not valid for federal identification purposes."
- The REAL ID Act does not prohibit states from requiring undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses, in fact it expressly allows for it. That's why states that require undocumented immigrants to be licensed like Colorado, Connecticut , Maryland, Utah, Nevada, and Vermont have also been certified by DHS as REAL ID Act compliant.
- The NM Taxation & Revenue Department has opposed four bills in the legislature in the last four years that would have allowed the state to create a REAL ID compliant license or identification.
While it is true that driver's license fraud exists everywhere in the country including in New Mexico, denying licenses to immigrant drivers is not the solution. On the contrary, the black market for identity documents has proliferated in states that deny licenses to drivers based on immigration status. State governments ensure the integrity and security of their licensing systems by implementing strong internal anti-fraud mechanisms. In the last five years, New Mexico has taken steps to do this and could strengthen the system even more.
- In 2009, MVD fortified New Mexico’s driver's license by embedding 12 security features, up from four, on the card—making it one of the most secure licenses in the country.
- The state has implemented internal anti-fraud mechanisms including staff training on identifying false documents, biometric facial recognition and requiring all drivers’ licenses be created and mailed out from a secure out-of-state location.
- Applications for foreign nationals undergo additional scrutiny at the Tax Fraud Investigations Division of the Taxation and Revenue Department, leading to the apprehension and prosecution of individuals involved in fraud.
- The Senate passed a bill during the last legislative session that would have strengthened residency requirements for foreign nationals, required more frequent renewals and fingerprinting, and created additional deterrents and penalties for anyone involved in fraud. The Governor did not back any of these proposals. Meanwhile, MVD has used the numerous statutory tools it already has to effectively curb fraud.
- A 2011 Lake Research Partners poll indicated that 64% of voters support a compromise on the driver’s license issue that would continue requiring undocumented immigrants to obtain a license, as long as they are subjected to additional requirements such as more frequent renewals, strengthened identity and residency requirements, and tougher penalties for fraud.
- A Latino Decisions poll conducted in October 2012 showed that 70% of Latino likely voters in New Mexico support reforming the existing law with additional requirements, rather than repealing it. Only 21% said they preferred repealing it outright.
- A Latino Decisions poll conducted in January 2016 showed that 69% of registered voters, Latino and non-Latino, in New Mexico support the continued issuance of drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants as long as there are strong penalties for fraud and those licenses state "not valid for federal identification purposes," a requirement of the REAL ID Act. Only 27% said that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to apply for a driver's license.
- The same 2016 Latino Decisions poll showed that 56% of registered voters support a bipartisan legislative proposal that would give eligible residents of New Mexico a choice to go through the additional federally mandated procedures to get a REAL ID compliant license and that would allow people who either do not want one, or who are ineligible for one, to keep their current driver's license that when renewed would state "not valid for federal identification purposes."