- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - After years of pressuring lawmakers and facing criticism from immigrant rights groups, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that revises the state’s immigrant driver’s license law and puts New Mexico in compliance with tougher federal identification requirements.

The Republican governor signed the measure during a ceremony at Sunport International Airport in Albuquerque and announced that state residents won’t need a U.S. passport to board a commercial flight as initially feared.

Under the new bill, New Mexico will stop issuing driver’s licenses to new immigrant applicants regardless of legal status. Immigrants in the country illegally will be able to get a driver’s authorization card by submitting fingerprints. Immigrants who already have licenses can skip the requirement.

In addition, residents will have the option to get REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses or driver’s authorization cards.

The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. New Mexico had no such requirement.

Martinez had tried repeatedly to repeal the state’s immigrant driver’s license law, but state Senate Democrats had blocked the measure.

This session, however, Martinez and lawmakers faced pressure to resolve their difference after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the state wouldn’t get an extension on tougher federal REAL ID mandates.

“It was a long five years,” Martinez said. “Today we say no more.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would give the state an extension on REAL ID mandates. That decision sparked uncertainty around the state after military bases said they were stop accepting New Mexico driver’s licenses for entry.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also said non-compliant driver’s licenses would no longer be accepted to board commercial air flights.

The department has since given New Mexico an extension after state lawmakers passed the bipartisan proposal.

The Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido called the new bill a “loss” for Martinez and said it had been amended enough to protect immigrants’ rights. “We are proud that both Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate stood up to Governor Martinez’ long campaign to divide New Mexicans on this issue,” the group said in a statement.

The group had originally opposed any legislation that created separate “driver’s permit cards” or required fingerprints but reversed after Senate Democrats agreed to those provisions.

Martinez said the new measure was about public safety and not immigration. She pointed to the arrest of four Mexican nationals were taken into custody hours before the bill signing for trying to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses using false residency documents.

New Mexico Taxation & Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla said until state officials are able to fully adopt the new law, authorities are expecting others to try to obtain licenses using fake documents.

“We have to be vigilant,” she said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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