SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is making it easier for residents to obtain a basic driver’s license that is recognized by state agencies and private businesses but will not be valid for commercial airline travel starting in October 2020, taxation and motor vehicle officials announced Tuesday.
Requirements won’t change for licenses that are compliant with federal Real ID standards that ensure continued access next year to commercial airliners and some federal facilities.
New procedures for obtaining the state’s “standard” license do away entirely with requirements for fingerprints and a Public Safety Department background check from people with no proof of lawful U.S. residency.
Advocates for immigrants and civil liberties praised the changes to minimum driver’s license requirements as a way to improve legal access to public services and reduce roadway hazards linked to unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
To receive a standard license, applicants must provide one document as proof of identity and age, and two more that prove New Mexico residency. Acceptable identity documents run the gamut from a U.S. birth certificate to permanent medical records or an enrollment letter from a Native American nation or tribe.
“New Mexicans do not have to provide a Social Security number or any other federal identification number, and they do not have to provide proof of lawful immigration status for a standard license,” the Taxation and Revenue Department said in a statement.
Agency Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke, who oversees state motor vehicle offices, says the new standard license “comes without stigma and unnecessary hoops to jump through.”
The changes are the result of newly approved legislation signed by first-year Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham — and also the outgrowth of a lawsuit alleging that the state’s initial two-tiered system for driving credentials shut out many immigrants, homeless people and others.
Former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez warned for years that loose procedures for issuing driver’s licenses could make the state a magnet for illegal immigrants. Under compromise legislation, her administration began issuing Real ID compliant licenses and alternative driving “authorization cards” in November of 2016.
The state this week stopped issuing those authorization cards, replacing them with the rebranded “standard license” that more closely resembles Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses.
“It lets the state get back to doing its job, which is providing services to people who live here, without questioning whether someone comes here from Kansas or whether they come here from Paraguay or anywhere else,” said Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, co-sponsor of the motor vehicle reforms.
Most drivers won’t be affected by the latest changes to license requirements.
About 98% of license applications and renewals since late 2016 have been for Real-ID compliant licenses, according to Motor Vehicle Division Director Alicia Ortiz.