- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Catholic bishops said Monday they hope a proposed compromise among state lawmakers will continue to allow immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally to obtain driver’s licenses and also make the state compliant under the federal REAL ID act.

Meanwhile, officials with New Mexico’s largest airport say they are concerned that state driver’s licenses may not be accepted for air travel sometime next year.

In a statement, the church leaders said government and communities must work together to “keep the most vulnerable safe.”

“We pray that this compromise will become law so all eligible residents can drive to complete the daily tasks of making a living, getting children to school, and participating in our communities,” said the statement, written on behalf of Archdiocese of Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester, Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantu and Gallup Bishop James Wall.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security 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 some federal purposes, including boarding commercial aircraft.

New restrictions that will require federally approved IDs to access certain parts of federal buildings are scheduled to begin in January.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron said a decision on commercial air travel will be announced by the end of the year. She said the department had no timetable on when those changes could be adopted.

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Real ID website, “enforcement for boarding aircraft will occur no sooner than 2016.”

The department said a driver’s license or identification card from a noncompliant state may only be used in conjunction “with an acceptable second form of ID for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.” However, federal officials have promised that the public will be given 120 days’ notice before changes to air travel are adopted.

The REAL ID Act was passed in 2005.

New Mexico lawmakers are expected in January to begin work on revising a state law that grants New Mexico driver’s licenses to immigrants regardless of status. House Republicans and Senate Democrats both say they will have dueling proposals aimed at creating two-tier systems after years of stalemate.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has previously pushed for a repeal of the immigrant driver’s licenses provision but in recent weeks has signaled she was open to a compromise to get the state complaint under the REAL ID act.

Democrats and immigrant advocacy groups have used Martinez’s support for a repeal to blame her for the state’s REAL ID limbo instead of criticizing the Obama administration, which issued the ruling on the George W. Bush-era REAL ID provisions.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Albuquerque International Sunport said airport officials are worried about the potential impact should state lawmakers not come to a compromise and the federal government imposes new strict guidelines on air travel.

“It’s not going to affect this holiday travel season,” spokesman Daniel Jiron said. “Beyond that … it’s a situation that we’re going to see an impact eventually. We don’t have a lot of control over it.”


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

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