ALBUQUERQUE – A legal challenge filed Monday in state district court accuses New Mexico of unlawfully denying driver’s authorization cards to some residents under a system adopted in 2016 to meet tougher U.S. identification standards aimed at boosting safety for commercial airlines and at federal facilities such as military bases.
Civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups claim the state has failed to fully and correctly implement the driver’s license law and that requiring unnecessary documentation for a driver’s authorization card is causing confusion and hardship for some.
The lawsuit states the court has a duty to end what the plaintiffs consider illegal actions, citing the importance of ID cards for basic tasks such as finding employment, driving to work or applying for government benefits.
“When the state refuses to issue an identification card or a driver’s license, it imposes greater hardships on people whose lives are often already precarious – the homeless, the undocumented, Native Americans, senior citizens and people living in poverty,” the lawsuit states.
Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the state Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, said the lawsuit is the latest in a “long line of political stunts,” acknowledging the years’ long fight over driver’s licenses.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez tried a number of times to repeal a state law that allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to get New Mexico driver’s licenses. Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates successfully blocked those repeal efforts.
Both sides finally agreed to a revision after the Obama administration announced that airline passengers starting in 2018 would no longer be allowed to use New Mexico driver licenses as identification.
Martinez signed a law in March 2016 that allowed immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to only obtain driver’s authorization cards and citizens to apply for the higher-security driver’s licenses.
Under the state’s two-tiered system, the Motor Vehicle Division issues two kinds of identification. One is a driver’s license that meets tougher federal security rules and the other is the authorization card geared toward people who don’t have the identity documents needed for a new license, including immigrants living in the country illegally.
According to state data, nearly 35,000 driver’s authorization cards and more than 527,000 federally compliant licenses have been issued since the two-tiered system took effect.
While the documentation required for a federally-compliant ID card is more extensive, the rules for driver’s authorization cards require applicants to provide proof of New Mexico residency and identity.
According to the lawsuit, the state is requiring proof of an identification number for those seeking the driver’s authorization cards and that motor vehicle department offices are providing inconsistent information about the requirements.
Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss is among the plaintiffs. He said he was denied an authorization card four times because he had lost his Social Security card and was not informed about the appeals process.
“I followed the law and took my paperwork into MVD before my license expired but was turned away every time,” he said. “I know I’m not the only New Mexican dealing with this nightmare.”