Advocates for immigrants and the homeless are seeking to stop the state Taxation and Revenue Department and Motor Vehicle Division from asking people seeking driver authorization cards to show proof of a federal identification number, a practice the group says oversteps state law and is causing hardship for vulnerable people.
Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, Somos Un Pueblo Unido and other advocates filed a motion in the state District Court in Santa Fe on Thursday requesting a temporary restraining order to halt the practice until a class-action lawsuit over the issue, filed in January, is resolved.
If granted, the restraining order would require the state agency to send a letter to anyone who is denied a driver authorization card, with an explanation for the denial and instructions on how to appeal it.
The order also would require the agency to keep records of people whose requests for a driver card are rejected until the outcome of the lawsuit, which challenges the policy of requiring applicants to show a Social Security or IRS tax identification number.
The case highlights the ongoing hassles associated with New Mexico’s implementation of the federal Real ID Act, which requires driver’s license applicants to provide proof of not only their identity and place of residence, but also their citizenship or legal residency status.
The process of obtaining a federal Real ID-compliant driver’s license has been a source of frustration for many New Mexicans trying to navigate a complicated set of required documents. Hundreds of people have had to legally change their names or amend their birth certificates to try to prove their identities.
But not every driver is required to get the federally approved license.
The state, which previously issued licenses to drivers regardless of residency status, created a two-tier system in 2016 allowing people who don’t meet the requirements for a Real ID-compliant license or photo ID card — recognized for air and train travel, admittance to federal buildings and other purposes — to apply for a driver authorization card so they can continue to operate vehicles in the state.
Under state law, the process for obtaining the driver card should be more streamlined.
Advocates argue in court filings, however, that the Motor Vehicle Division is illegally requiring driver card applicants to provide proof of a federal ID number.
People — particularly low-income residents — are wrongly denied driver cards, the groups say, which prevents them from working, obtaining housing, accessing critical medical appointments and other necessities.
Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said in a statement Thursday, “We continue to hear from people throughout New Mexico who are eligible under state law but are still denied licenses or ID cards by the MVD.”
The groups also are receiving reports from agencies that provide services to vulnerable people, such as domestic violence survivors and those in the homeless community, that they are “struggling to help their clients meet MVD’s illegal regulations without success,” she said.
“MVD’s regulations and practices are setting low-income New Mexicans back,” Díaz said, “and they must stop while our families get their day in court.”
The advocates say they are asking the court to take action now to protect the rights of people hurt by the agency’s practice while the lawsuit is pending.
“People are already losing work and falling behind on their bills,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, in a written statement. “We cannot allow MVD to continue hurting hardworking New Mexicans while this case works its way through the courts.”
Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, said homeless people who are denied a driver authorization card, license or other state ID “are almost guaranteed to stay homeless since they will not be able to get a job or rent an apartment without ID.”
After the group filed its lawsuit in January, state Taxation and Revenue Department spokesman Benjamin Cloutier called it “the latest in their long line of political stunts,” and said only a handful of people had been affected by the policy.
Asked for comment on Thursday’s motion seeking an injunction, Cloutier referred to his previous statement and added that the state has issued more than 40,000 driver authorization cards and almost 635,000 Real ID-compliant license since the new license law went into effect in November 2016.