New Mexico lawmakers will discuss a bill Thursday that would stop the state from issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the United States illegally and would instead give them driver’s permits, the Associated Press reported. The action follows months of partisan debate as the state is under pressure from both immigrants’ rights groups and the federal government.
The proposal, put forth by Republican lawmakers, seeks to bring the state in compliance with the REAL ID Act, which sets requirements for state driver’s licenses to be accepted by the federal government for official purposes. But immigrant advocates have said they will fight any bill they deem discriminatory and state Democrats support an alternative bill that would create a two-tier system, giving REAL ID-compliant licenses to U.S. citizens and non-compliant licenses to any New Mexico resident who wants them.
Under the REAL ID Act, states must require proof of legal U.S. residency for their IDs to be used for federal purposes. New Mexico does not currently have this requirement, which has meant that undocumented immigrants could obtain state driver’s licenses. Earlier this month, California became the 10th state to allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive.
Republican lawmakers also tried to change New Mexico’s law allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses last year, but previous proposals have seen charges of racism and significant advocacy around the issue.
"I hope this time we can all listen to each other with respect and agree to disagree," said Rep. Paul Pacheco, a co-sponsor of the House proposal, told the Associated Press.
Pacheco will bring the legislation before the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, where immigrant advocates have vowed to show up to comment on how they would be affected by the change.
“Anything that doesn't allow immigrants to keep their driver's licenses is unacceptable to us,” Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, told the Associated Press.
At the beginning of the legislative session Tuesday, advocates held signs comparing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to Donald Trump, who has been widely criticized for his comments about Mexicans and immigrants. Martinez supports the Republican lawmakers’ bill. Still, Martinez is one of few elected Republicans across the country who have criticized Trump for his comments, according to the Associated Press.
“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,” Martinez said.
The debate over New Mexico’s IDs came into focus this week after the U.S. Defense Department announced that military locations would no longer accept the state’s driver’s licenses as proof of identification. The Department of Homeland Security said IDs will be accepted until 2018, but after that time, REAL ID-compliant licenses will be needed for commercial flights.