- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The federal government has declined to give New Mexico an extension on complying with tougher federal requirements that require proof of legal U.S. residency in order for state driver’s licenses and IDs to be valid for federal purposes, including, eventually, boarding commercial aircraft.

In a letter from the Department of Homeland Security, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, federal officials told the state Department of Taxation that New Mexico had not provided adequate justification for another extension.

“As a result, federal agencies may not accept New Mexico driver’s licenses and identification cards for official purposes,” Alan Bersin and Philip McNamara, assistant secretaries in the Department of Homeland Security, wrote in the letter dated Oct. 19.

The decision means New Mexico driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted starting Jan 10 at federal facilities such as Kirtland Air Force Base.

The Obama administration is expected to announce next year when New Mexico driver’s licenses won’t be accepted at airports.

The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use them to access certain areas of federal buildings. The law was passed in 2005.

People without valid federal IDs might eventually need a passport or have to go through other screening processes in order to travel domestically or enter federal buildings.

The sticking point in New Mexico has been a state law that allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegal to obtain driver’s licenses.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has tried to get the law repealed and has repeatedly warned state lawmakers that, without a repeal, the federal government wouldn’t grant New Mexico an extension. She recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to make a case for another extension.

“With this letter, the feds are saying that they are fed up that the Legislature continues to allow the dangerous practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla.

Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a state license or ID. Other states give restricted licenses to people who can’t prove they are in the U.S. legally.

Washington state also had its request for an extension denied.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, dismissed the announcement and said many other states are refusing to comply with the federal law.

She put the blame on Martinez for failing to support a compromise that would have created a “two-tier” license system and allowed the issuing of compliant and noncompliant driver’s licenses.

“That’s allowed under the Real ID law,” Diaz said. “This governor chose to not support a bill that would have put New Mexico in compliance. Instead she chose to discriminate against immigrants to push an anti-immigrant agenda.”

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, pushed the two-tier compromise proposal with bipartisan support through the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this year. But the GOP-led House refused to take it up, he said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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