Sanchez accuses governor of lying about need for passports

Sanchez accuses governor of lying about need for passports

While the 2016 session of the New Mexico Legislature is still more than a month away, the annual battle over driver’s licenses is already getting intense. Senate Democratic Floor Leader Michael Sanchez on Tuesday accused Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration of lying.

At issue is whether New Mexicans will be able to use their driver’s licenses as valid identification for federal purposes.

“The administration is misleading the public by saying people will need passports by Jan. 10” in order to board domestic airline flights, Sanchez said during a news conference at his law office in Los Lunas. “That’s an absolute lie.”

Martinez’s “fear mongering” has scared people, Sanchez said, causing them to needlessly line up at post offices to get a passport to use for federal identification.

Martinez has long sought to repeal the state law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. She has called the policy “dangerous.” Supporters of the policy say it has allowed immigrants who are crucial to the state’s economy to drive legally, and that law enforcement benefits because more drivers learn the rules of the road and are listed in databases available to police.

In October, the federal Department of Homeland Security threw a monkey wrench into the debate by sending the state a letter in which the department declined to give New Mexico another extension to comply with the 10-year-old Real ID Act. The federal law calls for states to require proof of legal U.S. residency in order for the state’s driver’s licenses and IDs to be valid for some federal purposes, including boarding commercial aircraft.

The Homeland Security agency’s letter also said the federal government starting in mid-January would not accept New Mexico driver’s licenses to enter some federal buildings, such as those on military bases or at national laboratories.

But no firm date has been set on enforcement of the federal law at airports. And Sanchez said his Senate staff contacted officials at various federal agencies to ask whether regular state driver’s licenses could still be used to enter federal facilities after the deadline set by Homeland Security.

Correspondence from those agencies, provided by Sanchez’s staff, indicates that current driver’s licenses will be acceptable forms of identification at federal courthouses and other federal buildings in the state, including those in Santa Fe.

Los Alamos National Laboratory already requires U.S. Department of Energy identification. According to a memo from the lab, short-term workers and visitors have to be escorted on the property by employees with badges, so Real ID would not affect access to the lab.

Two Air Force bases — Kirtland in Albuquerque and Cannon near Clovis — told Sanchez’s staff that they are awaiting direction from the Department of Defense before determining how Real ID would affect access to the bases.

Asked about Sanchez’s statements, a spokesman for Martinez, Michael Lonergan replied with a statement: “The bottom line is that Michael Sanchez has blocked efforts to repeal the dangerous law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and now he’s trying to hide from his record.”

But the spokesman did not respond to Sanchez’s claim that the Governor’s Office has been giving people false information about needing passports. He also didn’t reply to statements by the Homeland Security Department about the Real ID Act and proposed state legislation.

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