Kirtland still accepting NM driver's licenses

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By Charles D. Brunt / ABQ Journal Staff Writer

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kirtland Air Force Base officials said Wednesday that the base is continuing to accept New Mexico driver’s licenses as proof of identification despite the U.S. Department of Defense’s announcement that its facilities will no longer accept New Mexico licenses.

The announcement did not specify when military and federal agencies must stop accepting the licenses, but all three Air Force bases in New Mexico said they would continue to do so until receiving further information from the Defense Department.

Kirtland, which has numerous missions, reportedly including the storage of nuclear munitions, has more than 300 tenants, including Sandia National Laboratories facilities, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

“All federal agencies including DOD must comply with the law regarding the use of Real IDs for official purposes,” Wednesday’s announcement said. “For most DOD installations, an identification card or an installation pass is required to facilitate access. Hence, where an ID or an installation pass is used for physical access, DOD installations are prohibited from accepting driver’s licenses or state identification cards from states deemed non-REAL ID compliant.

“DOD policy allows commanders to waive the DOD access control requirements for special situations, circumstances, or emergencies. Therefore, installations may authorize other alternatives to facilitate installation access, such as a graduation ceremony guest list, escorts, etc.”

The public affairs offices of Kirtland and Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico released identical statements Wednesday afternoon:

“The Air Force is reviewing DOD’s informal guidance reference the Interagency Security Committee Real ID Act. We are awaiting final guidance and updating our policies as appropriate. There will be no changes to them at this time. However, installation commanders are aware and are preparing to adjust base access requirements to comply with the Real ID Act as formal guidance is completed.”

A spokesman for Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo said base officials there were also waiting for further Department of Defense guidance.

White Sands Missile Range in south-central New Mexico announced Jan. 11 that it would no longer accept New Mexico driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards as sole proof of identification for access to the post.

Three days later, Fort Bliss in El Paso said it, too, would stop accepting New Mexico licenses and ID cards for access to the post. White Sands and Fort Bliss are U.S. Army installations. Much of Fort Bliss lies in New Mexico.

Sandia National Laboratories, a Department of Energy facility that employs more than 8,700 people, will continue accepting New Mexico driver’s licenses, but only if they are accompanied by an additional ID such as a Social Security card, original or certified birth certificate, a federally issued U.S. passport, U.S. military ID, a Veterans Health ID card, or other Real ID-compliant identification.

Driver’s licenses issued by four other states – Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri and Washington state – are also not Real ID-compliant and will not be accepted at federal facilities, the Department of Defense said. It also said licenses from American Samoa would not be accepted.

The 2005 Real ID Act set minimum standards for issuing and producing driver’s licenses or identification cards, aimed at making them more secure. States, for example, must verify an applicant’s identity, do background checks on employees who issue them, and incorporate anti-counterfeit technology into the cards.

The original 2008 deadline has been postponed several times.

Wednesday’s announcement added urgency to the state Legislature’s efforts to agree on a plan to make state driver’s licenses Real ID-compliant.

New Mexico’s latest extension from the federal Department of Homeland Security to comply with Real ID expired in October, and there was a three-month grace period that ended on Jan. 10.

Gov. Susana Martinez and House Republicans are backing a bill that would halt the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, and instead offer them driving privilege cards. Everybody else would have to get Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses.

The House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee is slated to take up the House bill today.

Democrats are supporting a bill similar to one passed by the Senate last year, allowing immigrants who are in the country illegally to continue to get licenses – although they would be stamped as not for official federal purposes. New Mexicans who qualify for a Real ID-compliant licenses but don’t want them can also obtain the non-compliant licenses. Some people have objected to Real ID, saying it’s a ruse to implement a national ID.

Homeland Security recently announced that state licenses will continue to be valid for commercial air travel until Jan. 22, 2018.

“Unfortunately, this is the reality we face: The federal government is clamping down on our citizens because Democrats in the Legislature insist on giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” Martinez said in a statement Wednesday

“Our ID isn’t secure, and until we fix it, everyone from contractors, to hunters, and ultimately all citizens who simply want to board an aircraft will be affected,” she said. “We have a good compromise bill that solves the problem and stops giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and I hope the Senate Democrats will support it.”

Democrats in the Legislature note, however, that the Real ID law allows states to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, as long as those licenses are stamped “Not for official federal purposes” or something similar – a provision their House bill includes.

New Mexico’s Democrats in Congress – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham – issued a joint statement saying they urge the Legislature to “develop a Real ID-compliant driver’s license that would enable all drivers to drive legally, and provide certainty for workers and contractors who do business on federal facilities.”

They also said they would support the state’s applying for another extension from the Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Hobbs Republican, said, “Real ID has been the law of the land for over a decade. It includes critical improvements to government-issued IDs that make our nation safer and more secure. I encourage my colleagues in the state Legislature to take action during the current session to resolve this issue once and for all.”