- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico will begin issuing federally-compliant driver’s licenses, and driver’s authorization cards for immigrants in the country illegally, starting Nov. 14, the Taxation and Revenue Department announced Friday.

The agency did not specify what documents will be needed to get the new ID’s called REAL ID from New Mexico despite concerns from advocates. But state officials did say to get the driver’s authorization card, applicants must prove residency and identity, and must submit fingerprinting and undergo a background check.

Citizens who don’t want a REAL ID driver’s licenses can obtain a driver’s authorization card but don’t have to submit fingerprints.

The move comes after 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, but both sides finally agreed to a revision after the Obama Administration announced New Mexico IDs would no longer be allowed to board a commercial air flight by 2018.

In March, Martinez signed a law that allows immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to only obtain driver’s authorization cards and residents to real REAL ID compliment driver’s licenses.

REAL ID Act requirements mandate proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use state IDs to access certain areas of federal buildings and board commercial flights.

Until Friday’s announcement, the Martinez administration had faced criticism for not implementing the REAL ID law months after passing. But Martinez officials said they had to wait on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to approve New Mexico’s changes to confirm the state was in compliance with the federal law.

In September, the Taxation and Revenue Department published a list of proposed regulations drawing criticism from advocates for the homeless and victims of domestic violence.

Last week, those advocates warned at a forum the proposed regulations could unnecessarily tighten documentation requirements for basic state identification cards that poor, displaced people use to get jobs and apply for government health benefits. They blasted state officials for trying to adopt the law without public comment.

Sovereign Hager, an attorney for New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said she couldn’t comment on the announcement because she hasn’t seen the final regulations.

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said he felt state officials had their minds already made up when advocates presented their cases last week. “It seems awfully quick for them to start issuing IDs,” Hughes said. “I hope they took our concerns into consideration.”

Marcela Diaz, executive director for immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said the Martinez administration needed to do a better job informing residents about their right to an alternative license.

State officials had until Nov. 18 to issue new identifications.

Data obtained by The Associated Press through a records request showed 3,886 licenses were issued to foreign nationals from January to October. That’s just shy of the 4,026 licenses granted to foreign nationals for all of 2015.

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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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