A day after state leaders continued their political bantering about New Mexico driver’s licenses, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Wednesday that it will stop accepting the state’s licenses as valid forms of ID to get onto bases nationwide.
The ban also applies to licenses from four other states and American Samoa — which, like New Mexico, have failed for years to meet the requirements of the federal REAL ID Act.
“All federal agencies including DOD must comply with the law regarding the use of REAL IDs for official purposes,” the U.S. Department of Defense stated in a news release.
White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces; Fort Bliss in nearby El Paso, Texas; and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque — which is part of the Department of Energy, not the DOD — had already stopped accepting New Mexico licenses as valid identification cards to enter. Wednesday’s announcement is a significant expansion of the new federal policy of not accepting New Mexico driver’s licenses.
The change won’t affect people who work on bases. They have separate identification cards. But visitors, such as those trying to visit the museum at WSMR; the stores at Fort Bliss, Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, and Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis; and the golf course at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, for example, will have to present alternate forms of ID such as a passport. The same will be true for New Mexicans who want to visit bases in other states while traveling.
The policy leaves room for some exceptions. The DOD news release states that bases “may authorize other alternatives to facilitate installation access, such as a graduation ceremony guest list, escorts, etc.”
The change comes because New Mexico policymakers have for years fought a war of words over giving driver’s licenses to immigrants who lack legal status instead of bringing the state’s licenses into compliance with the REAL ID Act.
Nothing in the REAL ID Act prohibits states from giving driving privileges to people living there without legal status. Several REAL ID-complaint states have two different types of licenses — a compliant license that’s valid for federal purposes and given to those who prove legal status, and a noncompliant card for everyone else that lets them drive legally.
Gov. Susana Martinez has demanded for years that the Legislature repeal New Mexico’s 2003 law that grants licenses to immigrants without legal status. Democrats long fought to keep that law in place even though it wasn’t compliant with REAL ID.
Now all sides are talking about approving a compromise, two-tier system in the legislative session that began Tuesday. Proposals from Democrats and Republicans both appear to take licenses away from at least some immigrants who currently hold them. The GOP proposal would likely strip more immigrants of their licenses than the Democrats’ proposal.
During her State of the State Address on Tuesday, Martinez perpetuated a myth she’s been repeating — that New Mexico isn’t REAL ID complaint because it grants licenses to immigrants without legal status. And she played up the federal threat to no longer let New Mexicans use their driver’s licenses to board planes starting in 2018.
“Some have advocated just kicking the can down the road; that’s getting much harder to do,” Martinez said. “Others want to continue giving preferential treatment to illegal immigrants at the expense of U.S. citizens. That’s not common sense, it’s not acceptable, and it ignores the will of the people who elected us.”
Meanwhile, in the Democrats’ response to Martinez’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez continued to downplay the consequences New Mexicans are already facing because of state inaction on REAL ID.
“Let me make it clear to you once and for all: You don’t need a passport to get on an airplane in the state of New Mexico,” Sanchez said. “That’s false, and reporters who report that are wrong. The governor is wrong when she makes the statement that we have to (present passports). She’s tried to scare people this year.”
The Legislature will consider bills related to REAL ID and driver’s licenses for immigrants during the current session.