SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Following months of uncertainty and heated partisan exchanges, New Mexico lawmakers will make their first attempt to discuss a bill that would bring the state in line with the REAL ID Act amid pressure from federal agencies and promises from immigrant advocates to fight any proposal they deem unacceptable.
A House committee is scheduled Thursday to take up a GOP proposal that would create a REAL ID-compliant driver's license and allow immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain driver's permits. It is one of at least two REAL ID-related proposals lawmakers are expected to tackle this session.
REAL ID Act requirements mandate proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use state IDs for federal purposes.
New Mexico has no such requirement, and allows immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain state's driver's licenses.
Previous attempts to repeal the state's immigrant driver's license law have been met with charges of racism, angry committee meetings and one lawmaker comparing the REAL ID Act to the Holocaust.
"I hope this time we can all listen to each other with respect and agree to disagree," said Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the House proposal.
Pacheco will discuss his legislation before the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee. Immigrant advocates are vowing to crowd the meeting with people who they say would be affected by any changes to driver's license law.
"Anything that doesn't allow immigrants to keep their driver's licenses is unacceptable to us," said Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
Diaz said her group opposes anything that puts "scarlet letters" on driver's cards and opens immigrants to discrimination and deportation.
She favors other proposals like one sponsored by Senate Democrats that would create a "two tier" system -- granting REAL ID-compliant licenses to residents and noncompliant ones to any resident who wants them. The Senate has not scheduled a committee hearing on that bill yet.
At the start of the legislative session Tuesday, immigrant advocates held signs outside the Capitol comparing Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, to GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump, a candidate who has come under criticism for his comments about Mexican immigrants.
Diaz said Martinez is "pushing an anti-immigrant agenda" because she previously supported repeal and now backs the House bill.
But Martinez, the nation's only Latina governor, remains one of the few elected Republicans who have publicly denounced Trump for his remarks.
The REAL ID issue took even more immediacy in the state this week after the U.S. Defense Department announced military installations would no longer accept New Mexico driver's licenses as proof of identification for entrance. The U.S. Homeland Security Department also said beginning in 2018, noncompliant IDs won't be accepted to board commercial flights.
Martinez said she hoped lawmakers could come to a compromise and finally put the issue to rest.
"We have a good compromise bill that solves the problem and stops giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and I hope the Senate Democrats will support it," Martinez said.