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New Mexico reaches settlement on driving credentials

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New Mexico reaches settlement on driving credentials

By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico will ease identification requirements for driving credentials and ID cards that serve as alternatives to state driver’s licenses that meet tougher federal security rules and will provide a clear appeals process for rejected applicants, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state announced Tuesday.

A lawsuit filed in January accused New Mexico of unlawfully denying driving authorization cards to some residents under a system adopted in 2016 to meet tougher federal standards aimed at boosting safety for commercial airlines and at federal facilities such as military bases.

Advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Somos Un Pueblo Unido on Tuesday announced terms of a court-approved settlement agreement with the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees state motor vehicle offices.

New Mexico will no longer require a Social Security or alternative tax-identification number from applicants seeking a driving authorization card and alternative ID card, under terms of the settlement recently adopted as emergency regulations.

Sovereign Hager, legal director for the Center on Law and Poverty, said prior state requests for identity numbers overstepped New Mexico state law.

“Immigration status is not a factor in determining if you can drive or if you have an ID in New Mexico,” said Sovereign Hager, legal director for the Center on Law and Poverty. “Everyone needs access to a license or ID to work.”

Taxation and Revenue Department spokesman Kevin Kelley said the settlement establishes distinct documentation requirements for driving authorization cards versus licenses that comply with more stringent security rules. He said his agency is committed to assisting residents obtain either driving credential.

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to end homelessness, said the list of documents that serve as proof of residency has been expanded to paperwork from a doctor’s office or a letter from a homeless shelter. He said those changes and others allow for a more “simple and sensible way for people to get an ID” card.

Other settlement terms were designed to provide due process to applicants who are denied access to alternative driving and ID cards based on fingerprint background checks, Hager said. Motor vehicle officials now must provide the reason for those rejections to applicants, specify evidence that the applicants can provide to resolve the denial, and give information about how to appeal and related deadlines.

The state can require a fingerprint background check on applications for driving credentials for immigrants and others who can’t show that they are lawfully in the United States by providing documents such as a birth certificate, passport or visa. Those applications then can be rejected on the basis of criminal warrants or inconclusive proof of identity.

Critics of the process established in 2016 say applications also have been rejected over clerical errors and discrepancies with multiple last names — depriving some people unreasonably of state identification cards that are crucial for driving, securing a job or even renting a hotel room.

Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss became a plaintiff to the lawsuit after he applied for a driving authorization card to replace an expired driver’s license with a U.S. passport in hand.

He says his application was rejected because he couldn’t immediately provide a Social Security card — leaving him to shuttle his grandchildren and elderly father to appointments without an active driver’s license or driving authorization card.

He said the settlement “ensures that fewer barriers are going to be thrown up on the way as we do our jobs and take care of our families.”

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