REAL IDFederal ID deadline draws near, but some states are not yet ready

Published 29 November 2012

A federal deadline imposing security standards for states-issued driver’s licenses is drawing near, but according to New Mexico’s congressional delegation, an extension is possible for the state for complying with the law; the act currently has thirty-one requirements, but New Mexico has not met sixteen of them and eight of those are related to the driver’s license law

A federal deadline imposing security standards for states-issued driver’s licenses is drawing near, but according to New Mexico’s congressional delegation, an extension is possible for the state for complying with the law.

The REAL ID Act mandates that states have certain security features on licenses and identification cards which must be connected to a national database of license information. According to DHS, the deadline applies to states, not individuals. New Mexico is one of twenty-four states which are currently not in compliance with the act. New Mexico’s law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses is one of the reasons for the state’s non-compliance.

AlbuquerqueJournal reports that the deadline for compliance is 15 January 2013. Starting in December 2014, a state-issued ID card or driver’s license cannot be used by someone under the age of fifty to enter a federal building or board a commercial plane unless the license complies with the program. DHS has granted extensions for the REAL ID Act to all fifty states at least three times since its introduction in 2005.

At this time it is unclear whether New Mexico will be penalized if it does not comply with the act by the deadline, but Governor Susana Martinez has requested clarification from DHS in case the state is penalized.

Some are worried about potential travel issues stemming from the act. Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz is asking his officers who might train or conduct investigations outside New Mexico to obtain passports.

Schultz’s officers occasionally fly to other states to run down and follow up on leads in active cases, and officers also have to travel to different states for training. 

“We do not know how many (officers) have passports,” Schultz wrote in an e-mail to the Albuquerque Journal. “We are asking personnel to get them, however, so they do not encounter any problems while traveling. Our biggest concern is buying a ticket and then not being able to have the officer travel, resulting in additional expenses and wasted resources.”

“We just want to be prepared for a worse case,” Schultz wrote. “Since many officers do have passports, we will be able to get personnel to follow up cases. We just want to make sure it is the case agent or the lead investigator when possible.”

Most elected officials in New Mexico have been optimistic about the situation. “Many states, including New Mexico, will not be in full compliance with the REAL ID Act by the January 15 deadline,” Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) told the Journal. “We faced a similar situation in 2011 and the deadline was extended. We expect (the Department of Homeland Security) to either extend the deadline again or implement alternative screening procedures to ensure that air travel is not disrupted.”

Representative Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) feels differently. “The 9/11 hijackers had driver’s licenses that they obtained legally,” Pearce told theJournal. “REAL ID was passed to prevent this from happening again. New Mexico has chosen not to comply with the REAL ID law. If they continue to make that choice, New Mexico’s citizens might be impacted, but my office stands ready to help constituents as much as possible.”

Governor Martinez has tried to repeal the law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, but it has failed in the legislature twice. Martinez’s spokesman Scott Darnell told the Journal in an e-mail that the fight will most likely come up again during the next legislative session in January.

“According to most New Mexicans, this isn’t a partisan issue; they support repealing the law, and the governor does as well,” said Darnell, who also characterized the law as the “primary impediment” to New Mexico’s compliance with the Act

The act currently has thirty-one requirements, but according to Darnell, New Mexico has not met sixteen of them and eight of those are related to the driver’s license law. The other eight relate to database and other technology issues that Darnell states “are on track to be in compliance by January 15.”

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