SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Only the governor's signature is needed for New Mexico to move forward with a plan to make the state's driver's licenses compliant under federal identification requirements, while still providing driving privileges to many immigrants who are in the country illegally.
New Mexico's House of Representatives voted 65-1 on Monday to approve a Senate bill and send it to Gov. Susana Martinez.
The Republican governor has praised the legislation that would require immigrants in the country illegally to submit fingerprints before getting new driving authorization cards. Those fingerprints would be given to the FBI for background checks.
Immigrants in the country illegally who currently have New Mexico driver's licenses, meanwhile, can skip the fingerprinting requirement.
All state residents could apply for licenses compliant with federal REAL ID requirements or just authorization cards. The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last year that New Mexico wouldn't get an extension from the tougher requirements, some military installations, such as White Sands Missile Range, stopped accepting state driver's licenses for entrance.
New Mexico has issued driver's licenses to residents regardless of immigration status since 2003. Martinez has characterized the practice as dangerous and attempted to overturn it since taking office. She has said the compromise bill approved Monday provides better security and ensures New Mexico driver's licenses will be accepted for air travel in the future.
Immigrant advocacy groups have called the bill a victory because immigrant families will still have driving privileges. "The most draconian elements of the original proposal were stripped out," said Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group.
The number of licenses given to foreign nationals last year plunged about 73 percent compared with the peak in 2010, according to state documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request. The numbers have been steadily decreasing since more than 15,000 were issued that year. The state gave out 4,026 in 2015, documents said.
There's no clear explanation for the decrease.
State officials do not know how many licenses went to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally because applicants aren't required to submit information on immigration status. Some could have legal residency.