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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Class Fights for Shot at New Mexico’s ‘Two-Tiered’ Licenses

Led by a former mayor of Santa Fe, a class claims New Mexico unfairly denies driver’s licenses and identification cards to eligible state residents.

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — Led by a former mayor of Santa Fe, a class claims New Mexico unfairly denies driver’s licenses and identification cards to eligible state residents.

Lead plaintiff David Coss, joined by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness and the human rights organization Somos un Pueblo Unido, sued New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department on Tuesday in Santa Fe County Court.

New Mexico’s “two-tiered driver’s license law” was signed into law on March 8, 2016. It allows the state to issue a “second-tier license,” known as a Driving Authorization Card or a non-federally complaint ID card.

The state's Motor Vehicle Division, however demands additional documents not required by the two-tiered law. When applicants — who tend to be homeless, undocumented, Native Americans, senior citizens and/or poor people — cannot provide the additional documents, they are denied a driving authorization card, according to the complaint.

However, the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 established standards for state driver's licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for “official purposes,” as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. Official purposes include boarding commercial airline flights and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants.

New Mexico driver’s licenses and ID cards are REAL ID-compliant and require more documentation than Driving Authorization Cards and non-federally compliant ID cards. But either form of identification can be used to work, rent a hotel room or open a bank account, and it's wrong for the Motor Vehicle Division to deny people of that necessity, the class claims.

Coss, a Democrat who was mayor of the state capital from 2006-2014, calls a state-issued ID card a “basic necessity” and “the primary form by which most people prove their identity.”

“And without a driver's license — something that New Mexico's courts have described as ‘an important, protect[able] right’ — residents cannot purchase car insurance, register their vehicles, or lawfully drive to work, to school, to childcare, or to the hospital,” he says in the complaint.

It continues: “Without a state-issued identification card or a driver’s license, a person cannot check into a motel to get a warm room in the winter. If she is between jobs and looking for work, law-abiding employers will not hire her. She cannot open a bank account, cash a paycheck or obtain medical care. In some cases, she cannot avoid the dangers of domestic violence. Moreover, she cannot perform other routine tasks that are essential to daily modern life.”

New Mexico thereby imposes greater hardships on the most vulnerable of its residents, the class claims.

When New Mexicans apply at the Motor Vehicle Division for Driving Authorization Cards or non-federally compliant ID cards, the MVD demands proof of an identification number, such as a Social Security card, which is not required by state law for second-tier identifications, according to the complaint.

New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Division website lists documents required for acquiring a DAC or non-federally compliant ID. They include a Social Security card, a W-2 or 1099 form, or a pay stub displaying the applicant's name and Social Security number as “Proof of Identification Number.”

The MVD does not provide information on the appeal process for people who have been turned down for a DAC or non-compliant ID.

Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, an attorney for Somos un Pueblo Unido, told the Albuquerque Journal that the group tried to work with the state to avoid litigation.

“Unfortunately, this administration from the very beginning failed to implement the law correctly,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos un Pueblo Unido.

The plaintiffs seek class certification, declaratory judgment that the two-tier requirements are ultra vires and a denial of due process and an order instructing the MVD to stop demanding any documentation beyond what is required by law. They also seek corrective action from the DMV, including notifications to all New Mexicans whose driver’s licenses or state IDs have expired since Nov. 15, 2016 with a clear explanation of those requirements.

Lead counsel David Urias with Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias & Ward is assisted by Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán with Somos un Pueblo Unido, Leon Howard with the ACLU, and Sovereign Hager with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, all of Albuquerque.

Categories / Civil Rights, Government

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