The House Labor and Human Resources committee voted 5-4 Tuesday to table a bill that would repeal the New Mexico law that allows driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, sponsor of House Bill 132, said the bill would bring New Mexico in compliance with the REAL ID Act.
The act, created by the Department of Homeland Security, establishes “minimum requirements for the production and issuance of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards” in an effort to reduce fraud and acts of terrorism.
Several states, including New Mexico, have been given more time to allow them to become compliant with the act.
The bill would have allowed issuance of licenses to those with Social Security numbers and valid, unexpired visas. Issuance to applicants without Social Security numbers would be allowed with “proof of valid authorized presence,” such as a visa or passport, and the license would have only been valid for the time of authorized presence.
The bill also would have made it a fourth-degree felony for anyone to apply for a license under false terms and a third-degree felony for Motor Vehicle Division employees to knowingly provide licenses for those not “lawfully entitled” to receive them.
Pacheco said his bill was not anti-immigration, but an attempt to make the state’s borders safe and its identification valid to the federal government.
State Taxation and Reveune Secretary Demesia Padilla testified in favor of the bill and said it would help deter instances of fraud. She said the law has strained the state’s resources at the expense of taxpayers.
Representatives of law agencies, such as the state police and the Department of Public Safety, also expressed support for the bill, while many others, including Sante Fe Mayor David Coss and Police Chief Raymond Rael, spoke in opposition.
After a lengthy debate, the committee voted to table the bill, preventing it from moving on to other committees.
Similar bills have been brought to the legislature many times and failed, Pacheco said, but the legislature, as whole, owed it to the state’s residents “to finally put this issue to rest.”
Committee member Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who was one of the votes against tabling the bill, echoed Pacheco’s sentiments.
“The citizens of the state of New Mexico deserve to see an up or down vote on this issue,” she said.
The committee also voted 5-4 to table a similar piece of driver’s license legislation, House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque.