Families and residents in New Mexico need a driver’s license policy that doesn’t discriminate against a person’s immigration status but yet conforms with a federal law known as the REAL ID Act, grassroots advocates say.
Yet, state lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez have yet to strike an agreement, which is causing uncertainty for tens of thousands of immigrant residents and their families.
This lack of a clear policy is prompting immigrant families and their supporters to hold vigils this week to raise awareness about the issue, according to Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a civil rights organization.
At issue are two proposals that seek to address the state driver’s license policy so that it can conform with the REAL ID Act. The federal law sets standards for state-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, and protects against possible national security fraud.
In October, the state lost a compliance extension for the REAL ID Act from the Department of Homeland Security. Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved bipartisan legislation that grassroots advocates say would have met the federal guidelines without causing discrimination against immigrants or forcing anyone to drive a vehicle without a license.
That bill, though, never received the support from Martinez. Somos Un Pueblo Unido is concerned that a second proposal, which is backed by some Republicans, would result in undocumented immigrants needing a state driver’s permit. Other residents, though, would qualify for a driver’s license.
“That is a Scarlet letter,” said Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “It would stigmatize immigrants based on their status.”
Since 2003, New Mexico has issued driver’s licenses to all immigrants who passed the test. Diaz estimates about 90,000 immigrants in the state would have to turn in their licenses and get permits, if the second proposal becomes law.
“It is an erosion of our rights,” she said.
Sergio Herrera, an immigrant rights advocates and oil and gas worker in the state, explained that a driver’s permit would have a direct effect on him.
“In Farmington, requiring me to carry a driver’s permit marked with my immigration status would mean certain deportation and separation from my children,” he said in a statement from Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “The local sheriff routinely turns over immigrant residents to the federal immigration official who has a permanent presence here.”
The state Legislature resumes business in January. Immigrant families and grassroots advocates say they will visit their lawmakers to express their concerns in person.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido focuses on civil rights and helping workers throughout New Mexico.