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Author Topic: Despite Setbacks, N.M. Governor Continues Fight to Ban Driver's Licenses for Illegal Aliens  (Read 2097 times)

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As part of a lawsuit settlement, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's Administration will discontinue a program that cancels the driver's licenses of illegal aliens who fail to prove state residency. Gov. Martinez plans to push the legislature again next year to change the law that gives licenses to resident illegal aliens - a matter of increasing importance given the looming federal deadline for compliance with the REAL ID Act.

In mid-2010, Gov. Martinez launched the Foreign National Residency Certification Program, which was designed to weed out non-resident illegal aliens who claimed residency in order to obtain a driver’s license. The state Motor Vehicle Division mailed around 10,000 letters notifying foreign nationals with driver's licenses that they needed to recertify their residency. About 30 percent of the letters were returned as undeliverable.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued the state and persuaded District Judge Sarah Singleton to block implementation of the program. In a settlement reached last week, the state Motor Vehicle Division will discontinue the programs and not cancel any licenses already checked unless the state has evidence of fraud.

In the wake of the settlement, Gov. Martinez asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for clarification on what will happen to New Mexico if it fails to meet the Jan. 15, 2013 deadline for meeting the driver’s license security requirements of the REAL ID Act. Among other things, the Act prohibits states from issuing driver’s licenses to those without legal presence.

As it stands now, starting in December 2014, a state-issued driver's license can't be used by someone under the age of 50 to board an airplane or enter a federal building unless the license complies with REAL ID. The prohibition applies to those 50 and older starting in December 2017. REAL ID allows a state to issue a license alternative to illegal aliens, such as a driving privilege card,  but the ID cannot be used for boarding planes or entering federal buildings.

DHS has extended the compliance deadline several times as a result of pressure from states. The agency has not announced its intentions with respect to the January cutoff. If the deadline is not delayed, Gov. Martinez will have additional leverage in her battle with the legislature next year over banning driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.

Martinez has said that the state's practice of granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens poses a public safety risk and "undermines the validity and security of every New Mexico driver's license."

The New Mexico Sheriffs' Association plans to lobby the legislature to repeal the 2003 license law. The group says the law allows illegal aliens to use fake addresses and commit fraud.
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