Community Meets To Discuss Drivers License Bills

Community members and local leaders met to discuss the impact of proposed drivers license legislation on local residents. Courtesy photo

Community Meets To Discuss Drivers License Bills

Staff Report

Drivers licenses and immigration are a hot issue at the New Mexico Legislature this year and the discussion on the various proposals to solve the problem were discussed in Espanola.

On Friday, Jan. 22 Councilor Michelle Martinez helped to organize a community discussion on the impact of the various proposed legislation on the local community. Headlining the event was Representative Debbie Rodella and Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant advocacy group.

The primary topic of conversation was House Bill 99 (HB 99), which has been fast tracked by Governor Martinez and Republican leadership in the House. This controversial bill seeking to repeal drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants who live in New Mexico and mandate all other residents receive a Real ID compliant drivers license.

At first glance HB 99 appears to be a compromise over what the Governor and her legislative supporters have pursued in previous years. HB 99 would allow undocumented immigrants to continue to drive, but would cancel their drivers licenses and require them to get a new “driver’s privilege cards” that would have to be renewed each year. The cards would also mark them as being a foreign national. In addition, during the application process all non-documented drivers would be finger printed and have their information sent to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.

Opponents argue that these changes would make immigrants more vulnerable to profiling and deportation initiated by state and local law enforcement officials resulting in separation of families. They argue that many immigrants who have licenses would opt to drive without any license or card.

For the U.S. citizens the bill would require them to apply for a new Real ID compliant license the next time they renew. Receiving a Read ID compliant license is more complicated than getting a regular license, as every driver will be required to re-apply in person at MVD and re-submit numerous sensitive documents proving age, identity, citizenship, birthplace and residency (birth certificate, social security card, etc) that will be put into a national database accessible to all MVD clerks across the country. Opponents of the bill point out that there is no exception process provided for those who cannot present these documents. 

When reached for comment, City Councilor Michelle Martinez said of the Friday event, “I was honored to host a great community discussion with Rep. Debbie Rodella, Somos Un Pueblo Unido and various members of the community, and constituents today about the REAL ID legislation being presented at the Roundhouse this session. It is important to educate yourself and get the facts before listening only to what the media says on the topic. There are some great alternative bills to HB 99 being introduced such as SB 174 by Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, a true bi-partisan compromise, which passed last session, as well as HB 94, which Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard is trying to introduce this session.”

City Councilors John Hernandez, Pedro Valdez, State Representive Debbie Rodella, City Councilor Michelle Martinez, Deputy Chief of Police Maes and Chief Richard Gallegos at Friday’s meeting. Courtesy photo 

During the Friday meeting Representative Rodella gave an update on the status of HB 99 and other competing bills, while advocates described the possible draconian measures HB 99 would implement and the negative impacts on the community and individual families who live here.

Recent decisions by the federal Department of Homeland Security have forced the issue this year, meaning that starting in two years, New Mexico drivers licenses will no longer be considered valid for boarding airplanes or to enter federal buildings.

Senate Bill 174 referred to by Councilor Martinez would create a two-tier license system but not implement the controversial provisions in HB 99. SB 174 was passed out of the Senate last year but died in the House. The other bill mentioned as an alternative is HB 94, which would create a Real ID option where citizens could opt to receive a Real ID, but the bill would not change any other provision of the current drivers license law.

All three of these bills have been introduced and are progressing at differing paces. HB 99 has received a fast schedule with minimum committee assignments and a quick trip to the House Floor for final passage. On Wednesday, Jan. 27 the House of Representatives took up the issue and voted 39-30 to pass it. HB 99 now moved on to the Senate where legislative sources predicted that it would be along with several other bills including SB 174.

Participants discussing impact of the legislation. Courtesy photo