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Stop Lying About REAL ID

Stop Lying About REAL ID

The Albuquerque Journal and the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez have spread misinformation and fear about the REAL ID Act and New Mexico driver’s licenses.


The Albuquerque Journal and the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez have spread misinformation and fear about the REAL ID Act and New Mexico driver’s licenses.

Here are some facts to help clarify the issues for New Mexicans:

New Mexico can opt to continue issuing its current license in the interest of public safety and fairness. The REAL ID Act specifically allows states to issue licenses that will not be acceptable for certain official federal purposes (a noncompliant license). And if New Mexico is granted a REAL ID extension or is certified as REAL ID-compliant, its current licenses will be acceptable for all official federal purposes until at least October 2020.

New Mexico can offer two (or more) tiers of licenses in compliance with REAL ID. The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has certified as REAL ID-compliant several states that issue both a REAL ID-compliant license that is acceptable for certain federal official purposes and a noncompliant license.

New Mexico can continue to issue its current license, available to citizens and immigrants alike, as well as a REAL ID-compliant license. Under REAL ID, states have great latitude in deciding who can obtain a license that is not acceptable for official federal purposes. They can offer the same noncompliant license to U.S. citizens and lawfully present to immigrants that they offer to persons who cannot prove they are lawfully present in the United States. Why would someone choose a noncompliant license? According to DHS, “personal preference, religious conviction, or the inability or decision not to provide original documents needed to verify identity, citizenship, or lawful status in the United States” can legitimately underlie that decision.

New Mexico can call its noncompliant license a “driver’s license” (rather than a driving certificate or driving privilege card). DHS has certified as REAL ID-compliant states that describe their driver’s licenses that are not acceptable for official federal purposes as “driver’s licenses.” (They are not required to give these licenses different names).

New Mexico can continue to allow all of its licenses to be accepted as identification by law enforcement and for other daily activities. REAL ID limits the acceptance only of noncompliant licenses for “official federal purposes.” States can continue to recognize their driver’s licenses as identification for every other purpose, even if they won’t be accepted as identification for official federal purposes.

You don’t need a REAL ID-compliant license to enter a federal courthouse or to present to federal law enforcement. REAL ID does not apply to all federal purposes. As DHS has made clear in Real ID Enforcement in Brief, “[a]ccess for activities directly relating to safety and health or life preserving services, to law enforcement, and to constitutionally protected activities, including legal and investigative proceedings will not be affected.”

Even if you don’t have a REAL ID-compliant license, you will be able to use other ID with federal agencies. Driver’s licenses and passports are not the only documents that federal agencies can accept as identification. According to DHS, “[e]ach agency determines whether identification documents are needed for the purpose it oversees and, if applicable, which documents are acceptable. REAL ID only applies if a person is presenting a driver’s license or state-issued identification card for official purposes.” Even in these cases, individuals with noncompliant licenses may be able to use other forms of identification.

New Mexico residents do not need to rush to get a passport in order to fly within the United States. DHS has not yet set a deadline – even for states it considers noncompliant with REAL ID – for any changes to accepting driver’s licenses to board airplanes. And if you do not have the ID documents listed on its website, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows you to prove your identity with a variety of documents, including credit cards. TSA can even confirm your identity through means such as publicly available databases if you have no ID documents at all.

Want to check these facts for yourself? Check out the DHS’s Security’s “Real ID Frequently Asked Questions for the Public” and “Real ID Enforcement in Brief,” on the DHS website), or visit the TSA website for more information.

Joan Friedland is a New Mexico lawyer and immigration policy consultant to the National Immigration Law Center.

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  • Manny
    December 31, 2015, 2:01 pm

    Thank you! For a very compelling article.

  • Joe
    January 1, 2016, 10:01 am

    Great article, thank you!

  • R
    January 4, 2016, 11:07 am

    This article is a difficult read. Confusing and contradictory, it doesn’t clarify much at all. Not sure what the misinformation is that is being spread. I read the article twice and it confirms my fears and concerns that I do not have a real, valid, acceptable U.S. Driver’s license and that it’s still up in the air whether it will be soon inadmissible for air travel. I have renewed my passport.

    • David Stafford@R
      January 5, 2016, 7:43 am

      I could not agree with you more. This was itself a bunch of lawyer speak to soften the facts and make them more palatable. Unbelievable. I hate when neither side cab just honestly and unbiasedly state the facts. How on earth does it make sense to create repetitive processes just to accommodate as he stated above, someone’s "decision not to provide original documents needed to verify identity, citizenship, or lawful status in the United States”

  • | New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
    January 28, 2016, 12:07 pm

    […] this time? Some type of legislation addressing driver’s licenses seems likely as the Governor’s misinformation about the 2005 REAL ID Act and our state’s non-compliance are causing confusion among New […]

  • […] with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Governor Martinez and other anti-immigrant politicians falsely claimed that compliance meant denying driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. But, in fact, […]

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Lex Voytek is a nervous wreck and reading quiets the noise. Reach her at books@freeabq.com.