- Associated Press - Thursday, October 29, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Two nuclear research labs would require visitors to show passports or other forms of identification if New Mexico does not comply with tougher U.S. regulations for driver’s licenses, creating uncertainty in a state that grants IDs to immigrants regardless of their legal status.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s premier nuclear weapons lab, said late Wednesday that visitors would need U.S. passports for entry if the state does not start mandating proof of legal U.S. residency for driver’s license applicants, a requirement under the federal REAL ID Act. Sandia Labs also said they would need an alternative government-issued form of identification.

The move comes after the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday denied New Mexico an extension from implementing the stricter rules passed in 2005. The decision means state driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted at federal facilities starting Jan. 10.

The Obama administration also is expected to announce next year that New Mexico driver’s licenses won’t be accepted for security screenings at airports.

New Mexico allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. State lawmakers have been at a standstill over how to respond to the changes amid the threat that federal officials would not grant an extension.

The government said the state didn’t provide adequate justification for one. New Mexico’s next legislative session doesn’t begin until Jan. 19, and it’s not clear if a Democratic-controlled Senate and a GOP-led House can agree on a fix.

Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman Matt Nerzig said the lab has been coordinating with the U.S. Department of Energy on how to comply with the REAL ID Act.

“Should the state of New Mexico not come into compliance with the requirements of the federal REAL ID Act by January 10, Los Alamos National Laboratory will have alternative access control options in place, such as a valid U.S. passport, for when individuals present IDs from non-compliant states or territories,” Nerzig said.

Sandia Labs spokeswoman Heather Clark also said it was in contact with the Energy Department.

“Sandia will be communicating directly with our visitors, contractors and colleagues to provide them with information about how to comply with the REAL ID Act to complete our badging process,” Clark said.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has tried to overturn the state law that grants licenses to immigrants regardless of legal status and has repeatedly warned legislators that the federal government wouldn’t grant New Mexico an extension.

So far, both parties are pointing fingers.

“For years, state Senate Democrats blocked several attempts to end this dangerous law that provides driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants - a law that 70 percent of New Mexicans want repealed,” New Mexico Republican Party chairwoman Debbie Maestas said.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said it was the GOP who refused to compromise to create a two-tier system that he says would have put the state in compliance.

“The only reason we are in this position is because House Republicans and Governor Susana Martinez are catering to out-of state special interests and they continue to put their anti-immigrant agenda over the New Mexico’s public safety,” he said.

Federal officials also denied Washington state an extension despite a system that offers enhanced licenses and IDs that require proof of citizenship.

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

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