A coalition of homeless, immigrant and economic justice advocacy groups that sued the New Mexico Tax and Revenue department over onerous requirements to obtain state IDs announced today the state has agreed to a settlement making the process far easier and more transparent.
The announcement ends a two-year period in which the state imposed difficult requirements for people to obtain driving authorization cards and other IDs that do not comply with the federal REAL ID Act passed in 2005. Since 2016, the Motor Vehicle Division, which issues IDs, required people to show primary documentation that contained their social security number.
There's no official count of how many people who tried obtaining IDs were discouraged from doing so. Many were turned away by workers at MVD offices, while others received official stamps of rejection from up top.
But it got so bad that in January, groups including the New Mexico Homeless Coalition and Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the latter a nonprofit that organizes immigrants, filed the lawsuit in which they called the MVD's practice "a requirement that the Legislature neither enacted nor authorized the department to create or impose."
The coalition's star plaintiff, former two-term Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, said at the press conference that he was denied a driving authorization card on four separate visits to the MVD last year. Even after he provided the department with a formal letter from the Social Security Administration that said a social security card for him was "in the mail," he couldn't get his ID.
"I wasn't provided information [from the MVD] with how to appeal this decision, and as a result of what happened to me, I could no longer drive lawfully," Coss said, noting it hindered him from caring for family members. At the time of today's press conference, he had still not obtained a driver's license.
The new requirements from the MVD, which are detailed in a settlement agreement and are supposed to be in effect already, eliminate the need for applicants to show their social security numbers. Instead they'll only be required to show proof of New Mexico residency, age, and identity. This provision was first promulgated as an emergency regulation on June 26.
In addition, the MVD plans to expand the number of documents New Mexicans can show to prove their residency, which will likely make it easier for people in precarious living situations to obtain ID.
"They include things like paperwork from a doctor's office … as well as anything else that proves who you are," said Hank Hughes, the executive director for the New Mexico Homeless Coalition. Letters from homeless shelters, for example, could prove residency.
SFR contacted MVD spokesperson Kevin Kelley about the department's perspective, and we will update this story if he replies.
Proposed rules filed by the MVD on in June also say that other possible documents to prove residency and identity could include a New Mexico medical or public assistance card, profile printout or letter from the issuing agency. The rules were discussed at a public hearing on Aug. 1.
Applicants will still be required to submit fingerprints for criminal background checks if their licenses are expired. In the past, when there were discrepancies between a person's name in government records and their current proofs of identification, they were denied a new ID.
Gabriela Ibañez Guzmán, an attorney who represented Somos Un Pueblo Unido in the lawsuit, said the settlement creates a process for people to appeal this in certain circumstances.
"Now there will be a process if it's an issue of a misspelling, or you have two last names, and for some reason one last name was omitted in the background check; [there] will be a process for you to say, 'MVD, this is just a misspelling of my name, this is not an alias, per say,'" Guzmán said.
Guzmán tells SFR that the new regulations will likely include all of the changes discussed at the Aug. 1 public meeting.
"We have no reason to believe that they're not going to implement via regulation everything that we talked about," she said. "If for some reason [the MVD doesn't] adhere to [the settlement], then we have the means to be able to go back" and petition the court over the issues.
Within 60 days, the settlement order says, the MVD will be required to post updated document requirements in English and Spanish in all its offices, as well as information explaining a person's right to a hearing if their application for an ID is denied. The department will have to undertake a public information campaign to get the information out, too.
Also in this time frame, the MVD will be required to draft up a standard letter it will send to denied applicants informing them for the reasons for denial and evidence justifying it, as well as information on how to appeal the denial.
And a notice about the settlement will be mailed to all New Mexicans whose applications for a non-REAL ID compliant ID were previously rejected and who still don't have this ID.