The state House of Representatives sent a bill to Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday that would make New Mexico compliant with the federal Real ID Act and continue to allow immigrants without legal status a way to legally drive.
Gov. Susana Martinez has said she will sign the bill, which would end a bitter five-year political battle.
The 65-1 vote signifies one of the greater accomplishments by lawmakers in the 30-day legislative session, which ends Thursday.
Immigrant advocates and Martinez were both satisfied with the legislation because it allows immigrants without legal status a way to legally drive and makes the state Real ID-compliant.
Under the bill, U.S. citizens and immigrants with lawful status have the option to get a Real ID-compliant license. Those who don’t want a Real ID license and immigrants who can’t qualify for one could get a driving authorization card, but it would not be recognized as identification by some federal agencies.
The Real ID-compliant licenses are needed to enter some federal facilities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says they will also eventually be needed to board a commercial plane flying domestically.
The bill, which was heavily amended from its original version during the legislative process, also requires some immigrants without legal status to provide fingerprints to the state Motor Vehicle Division for a criminal background check in order to get the driving card. If the prints don’t match the name in data bases or the applicant has an outstanding warrant, those issues must be resolved before they could get a driving card.
But the estimated 90,000 immigrants without legal status who already have a driver’s license would be grandfathered into the system to get a driving card without having to provide fingerprints.
Since 2011, Martinez asked lawmakers to repeal a 2003 law that allows immigrants without legal status to get driver’s licenses, arguing that allow them to get licenses was dangerous. This year, the governor and Republican lawmakers softened their tone, agreeing to let immigrants without legal status still drive legally with what they called a driving card.
The Real ID Act of 2005 established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses. The standards include a Social Security number and proof of legal U.S. citizenship or legal admittance to the country.
The federal government has repeatedly delayed enforcement. Currently it is saying that if the state is not compliant by 2018, New Mexicans will need to show an alternative form of acceptable identification, such as a passport, to board domestic flights.
As of January 2016, 23 states were compliant with REAL ID.