Frequently Asked Questions
What is the process for an immigrant without a social security number to get a driver’s license?
New Mexico residents who do not have social security numbers must go through a more rigorous screening process than other applicants that involves making an initial appointment with a local MVD office over the phone or online. At the time of appointment, the resident must bring a birth certificate, along with a notarized translation, a valid passport or a Mexican consular identification card, and an IRS-issued Individual Tax ID Number (ITIN). The authenticity of the passport and the Mexican Consular ID are verified with the issuing agencies. The applicant must also bring at least two documents proving residency in the state of New Mexico. If the applicants can provide these documents, they are then allowed to take the driving tests at a later date, after which time, the documents are first sent to the Tax Fraud Division of the Taxation and Revenue Department for screening. They are then sent to the out-of-state company for processing.
Isn’t New Mexico out of compliance with the federal REAL ID Act because the state issues drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants?
No. The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that REAL ID compliance does not hinge on taking away licenses from immigrant drivers nor does it require states to create separate driver's certificates solely for undocumented immigrants. The REAL ID Act expressly allows for states to grant drivers’ licenses to immigrants without regard to immigration status as long as non-REAL ID compliant licenses state "not valid for federal identification purposes." In fact, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, Nevada and Vermont all license undocumented immigrant drivers and have been certified by DHS as REAL ID compliant.
Does having a New Mexico driver’s license provide undocumented immigrants with proof of U.S. citizenship?
No. There is no connection between U.S. citizenship and having a driver’s license. All states give licenses to non-citizens (they cannot constitutionally deny licenses to noncitizens who are authorized by the US Government to live in the country). In several states, when immigration visas expire, drivers’ licenses do not. This means that having a driver’s license does not prove legal status or citizenship in any state. Local and federal law enforcement officials never assume that a license issued in New Mexico or any other state proves either citizenship or legal immigration status.
Can you use a New Mexico driver’s licenses to access public assistance?
No. In order to obtain federal or state public assistance, an applicant must present a social security number for themselves or for their children.
Can you go to an MVD in another state and trade in your New Mexico driver’s license for another?
No. All states have different requirements for obtaining a license. Not one allows an applicant to submit another state’s license without additional documentation. If you are applying for a driver’s license in another state that requires a social security number or proof of legal immigration status, a license from New Mexico or any other state alone will not suffice.
Doesn’t New Mexico have one of the highest uninsured motorist rates in the country despite the current law that requires immigrants to obtain licenses?
Yes, but uninsured motorist rates have decreased since 2003, the year that New Mexico began issuing drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants. Keeping track of uninsured motorists is difficult. There are two measures commonly used. The first is calculated by New Mexico’s MVD based on licensed drivers who showed proof of insurance in order to register a vehicle. When the insurance lapses, MVD is notified and registration renewal is refused. Based on this information, the uninsured motorist rate has decreased from 33% in 2003 to 9% in 2010.
A second rate is determined by the national Insurance Research Council, which bases its calculation on how frequently insurance companies process car-crash claims involving an uninsured motorist. In 2002, it estimated the rate at 30%. The latest claims data indicates the rate is at 26%, a decrease.
It is important to note that about five percent of licensed drivers in New Mexico are foreign nationals without social security numbers, so the impact on uninsured motorist rates will be minimal. It is safe to say, however, that denying licenses to qualified foreign national drivers will most certainly raise the uninsured motorist rate, since they will be ineligible to purchase insurance. It would also impact the insurance premiums of any individual who is involved in an accident with an unlicensed, uninsured motorist.
How can we guarantee immigrant drivers buy car insurance?
Although buying insurance for all operating vehicles is mandatory, the state cannot guarantee that every driver comply. There are several ways, however, that New Mexico promotes compliance. You need proof of insurance when registering your vehicle. The state compares its database of registered vehicles with a list of insured vehicles provided by all the insurance companies in New Mexico. If MVD finds a vehicle which is registered but uninsured, it sends the policyholder a notice and cancels registration. If a motorist is pulled over by law enforcement she will be required to show proof of insurance. If that driver does not have proof of insurance, she will be required to go before a judge and show proof of insurance or face a penalty.
Doesn’t the current driver’s license law attract more undocumented immigrants to New Mexico?
New Mexico’s driver’s licenses policy alone does not attract immigrants or non-immigrants to New Mexico. The current law was passed in 2003, and according to the US Census, the state has seen a rather slow influx of immigrants. This is most likely due to the fact that the state is one of the poorest and doesn’t have the industries that usually draw new immigrants. According to most studies, job opportunities and family members are the factors that draw immigrants to particular areas of the country.
Doesn’t giving drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants threaten national security and public safety?
No. Driver’s license databases tend to be the most reliable and complete databases available to local and federal law enforcement officials, and including as many individuals as possible in that database makes it easier for law enforcement to undertake investigations.
According to Margaret Stock, former associate professor of national security law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, “Refusing to give driver licenses to illegal immigrants means taking [them] out of the largest law enforcement database in the country. Thus, denial of licenses is a policy prescription that hampers law enforcement far more than it enhances it.” And in 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found public and private databases, such as driver’s license databases, to be more current than the DHS database and more reliable for tracking down immigrants. Denying licenses to undocumented immigrants simply increases the pool of state residents who are not in any database used to track outstanding criminal warrants, child-support delinquents, and threats to national security. Eleven states and Washington DC agree, which is why they require undocumented immigrant drivers to be licensed (CA, CO CT, HI, IL, NM, MD, NV, UT, VT & WA).
Doesn't New Mexico's law giving drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants encourage people from other states and foreign countries to come here and use fake addresses to get New Mexico licenses?
There is no evidence that people have come to New Mexico from outside the US just to get drivers' licenses. There have been a handful of reported cases, however, in which undocumented immigrants already residing in other states have come here temporarily, submitted driver's license applications with false New Mexico addresses and returned to their home states when they have obtained their New Mexico licenses. This is admittedly an abuse of our law that should be prevented. Currently, the administration has the statutory authority to prosecute anyone involved in fraud and has successfully done so.
Denying licenses to undocumented immigrants would only serve to aggravate the fraud problems. In the states that do not require immigrants to apply for licenses, there is a robust black market for fraudulent documents that falsify not merely holders’ addresses, but also names, citizenship status, and social security numbers often resulting in identity theft against innocent citizens.