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Senators seek clarity for N.M. travelers

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36 states including New Mexico are not in compliance with the REAL ID Act

By Special to the Monitor

U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall have asked the Department of Homeland Security to provide New Mexicans with assurances that their travel plans early in 2010 will not be disrupted by a federal law governing drivers’ licenses.  

In 2005, Congress passed legislation – called the REAL ID Act – requiring states to tighten requirements related the issuance of drivers’ licenses because they are used as a standard form of identification for a variety of federal purposes, including air travel. 

While the senators support strengthening the standards governing IDs, they are concerned about a National Governors Association estimate that as many as 36 states — including New Mexico — will not be able to meet the Dec. 31, 2009, deadline to comply with the law.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the senators said enforcing the Dec. 31 deadline would cause a significant disruption in air travel. 

They also pointed out that New Mexico has asked for an extension of the deadline. 

In their letter, the senators urged DHS to quickly clarify its plans regarding the implementation of the REAL ID Act:

“The Department of Homeland Security has not indicated whether it will grant an extension, despite the fact that a majority of states are unlikely to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act.

This is causing a great deal of anxiety for our constituents, who are seeing news reports that they will need a passport in order to fly on a commercial airline after the first of the year.

Without assurances from your department that a passport will not be necessary, many people may alter or cancel their travel plans. This uncertainty may also have a significant economic impact if the residents of non-compliant states decide not to fly or are unable to do so,” Bingaman and Udall wrote.

President Obama has indicated his desire to modify the REAL ID Act through new legislation, called the PASS ID Act, but that proposal has not yet been passed into law.

“While we understand the Administration’s desire to enact the PASS ID Act in lieu of granting an additional extension, the uncertainty surrounding the steps the department may or may not take if the legislation is not signed into law is creating confusion and raising serious concerns in the many states that are not currently in full compliance with existing law,” Bingaman and Udall wrote.

Full text of

letter to Secretary of Homeland Security:

Nov. 30, 2009

The Honorable Janet Napolitano

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

We are writing to respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security provide an extension for states to become materially compliant with the REAL ID Act of 2005. 

As you know, more than 30 states, including New Mexico, are unlikely to meet the Dec. 31, 2009 deadline. 

While we understand the Administration’s desire to enact the PASS ID Act in lieu of granting an additional extension, the uncertainty surrounding the steps the department may or may not take if the legislation is not signed into law is creating confusion and raising serious concerns in the many states that are not currently in full compliance with existing law.

The Department of Homeland Security has not indicated whether it will grant an extension, despite the fact that a majority of states are unlikely to be in compliance with the REAL ID Act. 

This is causing a great deal of anxiety for our constituents, who are seeing news reports that they will need a passport in order to fly on a commercial airline after the first of the year. 

Without assurances from your Department that a passport will not be necessary, many people may alter or cancel their travel plans. 

This uncertainty may also have a significant economic impact if the residents of non-compliant states decide not to fly or are unable to do so.

The director of the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division sent you a request on Nov. 25 to grant the state an extension of the Dec. 31 deadline. 

We support this request; however, we also ask that if the Department does not intend to provide such an extension, that you issue a public statement as soon as possible to reassure the traveling public that you will work to mitigate the adverse impact of REAL ID.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for your ongoing efforts to strengthen homeland security.