New Mexico isn’t in compliance with federal regulations on identification of its residents. A debate in the state Legislature about how to change that, set for Tuesday, could change the way undocumented immigrants gain ID and has already divided Democrats and Republicans.
The Democratic-led state Senate is scheduled to hear proposals that some said would bring the state into compliance, but also would affect the hundreds of immigrants who want to drive legally in the state, the Associated Press reported. New Mexico is in danger of losing federal backing of its current ID system, which could mean citizens and noncitizens alike could face problems accessing federal buildings and traveling through airports.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez favors a measure that would require all legal state residents to get a REAL ID-compliant driver's license and allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s permit that doesn’t double as a legal ID. REAL ID is a set of federal guidelines for how states should issue identification documents to legal residents. That policy has already been adopted by the GOP-controlled state House.
Democrats in the Senate are reportedly pushing a proposal that creates a two-tier ID system – one that grants REAL ID licenses to anyone who can qualify for them and non-REAL ID licenses to people who can’t meet federal proof of legal residency standards. Currently, New Mexico does not require immigrants to prove legal residency before obtaining a state driver’s license.
Unless the Legislature agrees to some form of REAL ID law, residents could lose access to federal facilities, such as military installations. Federal officials also said commercial flights would stop accepting New Mexico driver's licenses as ID at airports by 2018.
The policy could be used a political football by Republicans in this year's elections, said Jeronimo Cortina, a University of Houston political science professor. "It would be very easy to explain to voters since almost everyone would be affected," Cortina told the AP. "A New Mexico driver's license would be nothing more than a Mickey Mouse card."