- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Leading Republicans in the New Mexico Legislature are insisting that immigrants in the country illegally provide fingerprints when applying for a special driver identification card under amended legislation designed to make state driver’s licenses compliant under federal regulations.

Republican House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry during a news conference Wednesday described the Senate amendments that stripped fingerprinting provisions from House-approved legislation as a deal killer.

Pressure is mounting in the Legislature to pass a fix that meets federal security requirements under the REAL ID Act.

A possible compromise seemed within reach on Tuesday after a Senate committee passed a measure aimed at making the state compliant. It would allow all New Mexico residents to apply for REAL ID-compliant licenses or obtain a “driver’s authorization card.”

Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the original House legislation and said the Senate amendments took away a key security measure by dropping the requirement for fingerprints.

“In my opinion we need them for public safety,” said Pacheco, invoking his past experience as a police officer. “We had a lot of problems with individuals getting driver’s licenses using family members, could be cousins, could be distant relatives, using their information.”

Pacheco’s original bill specified that finger prints submitted by immigrants in the country illegally would be checked against state, regional and federal criminal databases. Those applicants would be required to submit a signed waiver allowing fingerprints to be provided to the FBI for a new biometric identification database, known as Next Generation Identification, that is still under construction.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states are required to use a face biometric standard that allows for facial recognition and authentication under the federal REAL ID Act. However, fingerprints and retinal scans are not required.

At least two states - Utah and Delaware - require fingerprints from immigrants in the country illegally who want driving privilege cards. The information is submitted to state and federal databases for criminal background checks.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has for years attempted to rescind a state law that issues driver’s licenses to New Mexico residents regardless of immigration status, arguing that it is dangerous to provide licenses to those who are in the country illegally.

Michael Lonergan, press secretary for the governor, issued a statement Wednesday saying that Martinez wants “common-sense security measures and standards that New Mexicans expect and deserve. Anything less will be vetoed.” The statement made no specific mention of fingerprints, and Lonergan did not respond to further questions.

Some Senate Democrats including Sens. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, expressed optimism on Tuesday that a compromise with the governor’s office was within reach.

“The bill that is out there now,” said Smith, “it’s got a lot of support in the Senate. And hopefully we can come to an agreement with the executive branch.”

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, expressed reservation about allowing fingerprinting, saying that state photo requirements and facial recognition software are adequate.

Fingerprinting provisions in the original bill “sought to make the Motor Vehicle Division a prosecutorial agency,” he said. “That’s inappropriate.”

Republicans Reps. Pacheco and Gentry accused Democrats of acting in bad faith by stripping out the fingerprinting provisions after a January letter signed by Democratic Senate and House leaders said they were ready to support “security measures such as fingerprinting and photographing applicants.”

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Associated Press Writer Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed to this story.

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