By Uriel J. Garcia and Steve Terrell
The New Mexican Santa Fe New Mexican
Posted: Monday, January 4, 2016
Republican House Speaker Don Tripp, responding to a letter that Democratic leaders in the Legislature had sent earlier in the day, suggested a compromise Monday on the politically charged issue of New Mexico driver’s licenses conforming with the federal Real ID Act.
But one key Democrat criticized parts of Tripp’s proposed compromise as “punitive and pointless,” and the exchange indicates both sides remain in a standoff over the license issue just a week before parts of the federal law are set to take effect in the state.
State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez — D-Belen, along with House Minority Leader Brian Egolf of Santa Fe and Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces — delivered a letter to Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday saying she should work with Democratic lawmakers to pass a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would make New Mexico driver’s licenses compliant with the federal law. The letter, also addressed to Tripp, urges the Republicans to agree to a compromise by Jan. 10 that could help secure an extension from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to comply with Real ID.
At issue is a 2003 state law that allows immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, regardless of whether they have legal status to live in the U.S. To meet Real ID requirements, a license for a resident without lawful status must indicate that it’s not federally approved identification.
Tripp, R-Socorro, proposed in his letter a “framework for legislation” that would create a two-tiered license system “with a Real ID-compliant driver’s license for citizens and those in our country with lawful immigration status, and establishing a driving privilege card for those who cannot prove lawful immigration status.”
Under Tripp’s proposal, to get a driver’s privilege card, a person would have to submit fingerprints and a waiver to perform a criminal background check by the FBI and Homeland Security. The applicant also would have to provide evidence that he or she has lived in the state for at least two years and has filed personal income tax in the state for the year preceding the application.
“By establishing a system more comparable to surrounding states, we can remove the incentive for smugglers and human traffickers to target our state and bring New Mexico into compliance with the Real ID Act, while still allowing members of our community to safely operate a motor vehicle and purchase insurance, even when they cannot demonstrate legal residence,” Tripp’s letter said.
Egolf, however, blasted parts of Tripp’s proposal as “punitive and pointless.” He stressed that last year the state Senate passed a compromise bill that House Democrats support. That measure, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, would have established two types of licenses, one being Real ID-compliant. The Senate approved the bill 35-5.
“The Senate did exactly what the people of New Mexico want,” Egolf said. He said he tried to introduce that bill as an amendment to another driver’s license bill in the House, but House Republicans voted it down.
A Martinez spokesman also responded to the Democrats’ letter Monday night. “The Governor has worked every year to resolve this issue and has compromised many times along the way,” Michael Lonergan said in an email. “And, just like every year, we welcome serious collaboration with Democrat lawmakers. The Governor is currently working with Rep. Paul Pacheco on a two-tier compromise that stops giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and ensures we have a secure ID.”
Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, backs a license system that, like Tripp’s proposal, would require immigrants without legal status to obtain driving privilege cards. The measure is modeled after a license system in Utah. Immigrant advocates and many Democrats have fiercely opposed the privilege card system.
Homeland Security in October denied New Mexico another extension to make its driver’s licenses compliant with Real ID, which means the licenses will not be accepted as identification at certain federal facilities after Jan. 10. But the state’s Democratic congressional delegation met with Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month, and he agreed to get the state an extension if the governor and the Legislature could agree on a measure to resolve the issue before Jan. 10.
The next session of the Legislature doesn’t start until Jan. 19.
One of the biggest concerns to arise over the state’s noncompliance with Real ID is that residents will need passports to board a domestic flight. But the federal government repeatedly has said this is not the case. Homeland Security has said that if it decides to enforce this part of the law, it will give the state a four-month notice.