No worries, New Mexico travelers: Feds delay deadline for states to comply with Real ID

The federal Department of Homeland Security once again has pushed back the deadline for states to comply with the Real ID Act, removing any doubt that travelers after Jan. 15 will still be able to board a commercial airline flight by using a New Mexico driver’s license for identification.

New Mexico is one of at least two dozen states still not in compliance with the federal law because New Mexico law allows illegal immigrants to get state-issued driver’s licenses, and the state apparently hasn’t met information technology requirements in the act.

Implementation of the law, enacted in 2005 as an anti-terrorism measure, originally was scheduled for 2009. However, the deadline for compliance already had been extended three times before Thursday’s announcement.

New Mexico U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both Democrats, earlier this week had urged the department to announce that it would either extend the deadline or delay enforcement, saying they wanted the agency to provide New Mexicans with “immediate assurances that their travel plans early in the new year won’t be disrupted by a federal law governing driver’s licenses.”

Following Thursday’s announcement, Udall said in a statement, “While the announcement should have come some time ago, New Mexicans can now feel confident in going about their business using our driver’s licenses, whether it is for use in holiday travel, entering federal buildings or other activity where proper identification is required.”

Udall added, “The Real ID Act was an unworkable national policy from the start, which is why I voted against it as a member of the House of Representatives. Now that it’s law, we need to find a way to resolve the issues it presents for good.”

New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, has cited the federal act as among the reasons she wants New Mexico lawmakers to repeal the law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. However, her proposals have failed to clear the state Legislature.

And while comments by Martinez about the potential impact of the federal law created concern among some New Mexicans that they might be forced to use passports as credentials instead of driver’s licenses, the Jan. 15 deadline actually only affected states and not individuals.

A news release posted Thursday on the Homeland Security website said the agency has determined that 13 states have met the standards in the Real ID Act, but that other states haven’t provided sufficient information for the department to make a determination.

“Beginning Jan. 15, 2013, those states not found to meet the standards will receive a temporary deferment that will allow federal agencies to continue to accept their licenses and identification cards for boarding commercial aircraft and other official purposes,” the release states.

“[The department's] goal is to implement the Real ID Act, as required by law, in a measured, fair, and responsible way.

“In the coming weeks and months, [the department] will, in consultation with states and stakeholders, develop a schedule for the phased enforcement of the Act’s statutory prohibitions to ensure that residents of all states are treated in a fair manner.”

The agency said it expects to publish a schedule in early fall 2013 and begin implementation “at a suitable date thereafter.” ___

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