SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico driver’s licenses are getting an overhaul to comply with tougher federal identification requirements and so the state can continue granting driving privileges to people who are in the country illegally.
The state’s Motor Vehicle Division on Monday began issuing two kinds of identification for drivers and other residents.
One is a driver’s license that meets new federal security rules aimed at better safeguarding commercial airlines and federal facilities such as military bases. The other is a driving authorization card geared toward immigrants unable to provide paperwork proving they are the U.S. legally.
Here are a few things to know about the changes:
OLD DRIVER LICENSES STILL VALID
Licenses issued before Monday will continue to be valid for boarding flights and entering federal facilities until Oct. 1, 2020.
The Motor Vehicle Division is encouraging motorists to renew their licenses on the normal renewal date.
Those with licenses expiring after Oct. 1, 2020, should receive a postcard with renewal instructions.
The price for the IDs is not changing.
WHAT TO BRING ALONG
The Motor Vehicle Division recommends driver’s license applicants bring a birth certificate, Social Security card and two proofs of residency, such as a lease or bank statement.
Other documents are acceptable in combination that run the gamut from a consular report of birth abroad to a pay stub with a Social Security number on it.
Driving authorization cards follow different requirements to prove residency and identity that are likely to include records from the military, federally recognized Native American tribes, foreign consulates, and corrections departments and prisons. The Motor Vehicle Division is unveiling final rules on Monday.
FINGER PRINTS REQUIRED
Motor Vehicle Division spokesman Ben Cloutier says applicants for the driving authorization card who cannot prove they are in the country with legal permission will be required to submit fingerprints for a background check.
Citizens who don’t want new high-security driver’s licenses can obtain a driver’s authorization card but don’t have to submit fingerprints.
WHY THE CHANGES?
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez tried a number of times to repeal a state law that allowed immigrants in the country illegally to get New Mexico driver’s licenses.
Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates successfully blocked those repeal efforts.
Both sides agreed to a revision after the Obama Administration announced that airline passengers starting in 2018 would no longer be allowed to use New Mexico driver licenses as identification.
In March, Martinez signed a law allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to only obtain driver’s authorization cards and citizens to apply for the higher-security driver’s licenses.
Advocates for the homeless and victims of domestic violence have warned that the new system could unnecessarily tighten documentation requirements for basic state identification cards that poor or displaced people use to get jobs and apply for government health benefits.
The state’s new two-tier ID system includes two cards that come without driving privileges, with one version providing access to flights and certain federal buildings and the other serving as a basic form of photo identification.
Reactions to the new driver’s license regulations were mixed at a Motor Vehicle Division office in Santa Fe, where many people seeking to renew their driver’s licenses were turned away because of incomplete proof of identity or residency or both.
Teresita Gonzales of Santa Fe, a 38-year-old skin care therapist and New Mexico native, said she understood the need for tighter security but still considers the new two-tier ID system to be discriminatory because it splits residents in two categories.
Diane Ridgeway of Santa Fe left the Motor Vehicle Division to go home and look for her Social Security card so she can renew her driver’s license. She said the changes are a good idea.
“It’s going to make it harder for people to get through the system who are kind of here illegally,” said Ridgeway, who works in real estate. “In the kind of world we live in today, it’s probably a good thing to have more paperwork.
Victor Morales, a construction worker, had no complaints after helping his 16-year-old, Mexican-born son apply successfully for a driving learner’s permit. The family supplied a birth certificate from Mexico that was translated into English and two documents as proof of local residency in Santa Fe.
“The service was excellent,” he said.
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