New Mexico officials ran into fresh criticism Tuesday about revisions to the state’s immigrant driver’s license law at a public hearing on the proposed regulations.
The Department of Taxation and Revenue has said its plan to implement a law approved this year would put New Mexico in compliance with tougher federal identification requirements for driver’s licenses while extending driving privileges to immigrants in the country illegally.
But advocates for the homeless and victims of domestic violence warned that 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.
Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, urged the state agency to restore a longer list of identity and proof-of-residency documents that have been accepted by the Motor Vehicle Division in the past.
Documents that would no longer be accepted for a basic ID include military discharge papers, proof of eligibility for welfare benefits, medical insurance cards, school transcripts, infant baptism certificates and more, he said. That leaves a list of 23 eligible identification documents and nine residency documents.
“Getting a new ID is important for people who are starting their lives over again, and making that as simple as possible, I think is to the benefit of everybody in the state,” Hughes said. “You don’t want people wandering around without IDs who can’t get medical care, who can’t get jobs and get access to lots of different things.”
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez spent years trying to repeal the state’s immigrant driver’s license law before arriving at a compromise with Democratic lawmakers this year.
The Taxation and Revenue Department described new complaints as ill-informed and noted that an overwhelming majority of New Mexicans have supported the governor’s position.
“This is just an ill-informed and incorrect attempt to smear the governor’s initiative to end the dangerous practice of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the Taxation and Revenue Department. He added that issues of identification for the homeless would need to be addressed by the Legislature.
A hearing officer will report on the concerns raised Tuesday to Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla for consideration before final regulations are issued.
Under a law approved in February, New Mexico is moving to a two-tiered system of driver’s licenses and identity cards with distinct application requirements.
One tier provides a driver’s license or ID card that complies with provisions of the federal REAL ID Act. The act eventually would require proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities or board flights. New Mexico had no such requirement.
New Mexico residents also can opt for a driving authorization card or another simple ID that won’t guarantee access to federal facilities or air travel.
Public concerns focused largely on new documentation requirements to obtain the second-tier driving card and ID.
The Center for Law and Poverty objected to proposed requirements for an identification number, such as a Social Security number or substitutes such an IRS-issued individual taxpayer identification number, saying that goes beyond the intent of the Legislature.
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