Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law on Tuesday compromise legislation that creates a two-tier licensure system for drivers and puts the state on a path toward becoming compliant with the federal REAL ID Act.
In signing the bill, Martinez continued using rhetoric that NMPolitics.net has already debunked. New Mexico will begin offering two types of driving cards — a REAL ID-compliant license for those who provide documentation that meets federal requirements, and a “driving authorization card” that will still let those who don’t prove citizenship or legal status drive legally.
The second-tier card could have been called a driver’s license. There’s no difference between calling it a license or an “authorization card” — which is what New Mexico will be calling them. But Martinez apparently wants to call it the latter so she can say she kept a campaign promise.
“For five long years, we’ve fought hard to do what the people of New Mexico have overwhelmingly demanded,” Martinez said in a news release. “This bipartisan compromise ends the dangerous practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, which had turned New Mexico into a magnet for fraud from all over the world.”
The reality: New Mexico will continue giving immigrants living here without legal status a way to drive legally. And though the law requires people who don’t prove citizenship or legal status to be fingerprinted to get a driving authorization card, it exempts the tens of thousands of immigrants who already have New Mexico driver’s licenses.
So the truth is that, in this bipartisan compromise, Martinez gave lots more ground than Democrats. Martinez fought for years to take legal driving privileges away from all immigrants living in the state without legal status. The bill she signed Tuesday ensures that such immigrants will continue to be allowed to drive legally.
Semantics aside, Martinez said the compromise was “a long overdue, commonsense way to make New Mexico safer.”
“I’m proud to sign it into law today,” she said.
Martinez’s signature was expected. The compromise legislation sailed through the session that ended last month with her support. And Martinez had already travelled to Washington, D.C. to successfully secure an extension of time for New Mexico to comply with the security standards required by the REAL ID Act.
That means New Mexico driver’s licenses are once again valid forms of identification to get onto military bases and into other federal installations. Next up, the state’s Motor Vehicle Division has to implement the requirements in the bill Martinez signed today.
Officials from across the political spectrum praised the compromise after Martinez signed the legislation.
“We’ve gone from a politically charged attempt to take away licenses from immigrants and force citizens to get a REAL ID to a solution that makes sense for New Mexicans,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, praised the legislation for allowing Native Americans to use tribal documents to obtain a REAL ID-compliant license.
“This is a victory for all of New Mexico. We can now put this issue behind us and start focusing on our economy and creating jobs,” she said.
Two Republican House members also called it a victory.
“All of the hard work we have put into this has finally paid off,” said Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, who worked on this year’s compromise.
“I have worked on this issue for years. I’m proud of this compromise,” said Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch.
Both Pacheco and Nuñez repeated on Tuesday the same spin-filled line as Martinez about the compromise taking licenses away from immigrants without legal status — which, again, it doesn’t actually do.
One activist group, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, wasn’t ready to give Martinez any credit for the compromise.
“We are proud that both Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate stood up to Governor Martinez’s long campaign to divide New Mexicans on this issue,” the group said. “It is because of their willingness to put families and public safety before politics that thousands of New Mexicans will not be forced to obtain a federal ID and that undocumented immigrant drivers will continue to have access to a non-REAL ID license.”
“The governor will continue to try to spin her loss,” Somos said, “but the reality is that New Mexico rejected her dangerous plan to put tens of thousands of unlicensed drivers on New Mexico’s roads.”
Other groups that worked on the legislation sounded relieved to put the battle to rest.
“We are pleased that undocumented immigrants living in New Mexico will continue to be able to obtain licenses so that they may drive to work, school and health-care facilities and go about their daily lives,” said Suki Halevi, New Mexico regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
“We are pleased our Legislature finally pushed the governor to accept a compromise that not only respects the choice of New Mexicans to obtain a federal ID but, most importantly, maintains the dignity and safety of our vibrant and hardworking immigrant community,” said Amber Royster, executive director for Equality New Mexico.
The American Civil Liberty Union’s director of public policy in New Mexico, Steven Robert Allen, pointed out that the organization opposes REAL ID “as a classic example of government overreach.” He praised the New Mexico law for letting New Mexicans choose to opt out and obtain a driving authorization card instead.
“Many New Mexicans are rightly concerned about REAL ID and other national ID schemes, and we are pleased that people in New Mexico have a choice of whether to participate or not,” Allen said.