Editorial: Smuggler shows why NM has to comply on Real ID

By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board
Monday, November 9th, 2015 at 12:05am

Come Jan. 10, a New Mexico driver’s license will no longer get the holder onto federal installations – including the state’s four military bases and three national labs – presenting a problem for federal contractors and their employees.

Next year a New Mexico license will no longer get the holder onto a commercial flight – presenting a problem not only for recreational travelers but business people who have to fly for work.

There are those New Mexicans – including the leader of Senate Democrats – who maintain the state should continue to hand driver’s licenses to people in this country illegally. They say it allows those folks to get themselves to work and their kids to school safely. It allows them to be part of society sans a “Scarlet Letter” they claim would single them out for profiling and harassment by police. It ensures they are schooled on the rules of the road and insured, thus making the roads safer for everyone.


Is that why a New Jersey resident orchestrated an elaborate scam to bring Chinese nationals to New Mexico from New York – flying them to Albuquerque, renting them apartments and escorting them to the Motor Vehicle Department? It was all to ensure folks living and working and raising kids in New Mexico are safer driving through the Big I?

A university study has shown the state’s misguided though well-intentioned 2003 licenses-for-all law has not increased the number of insured drivers on the roads. What it has done is enable human smugglers to gouge certainly desperate and perhaps even criminally inclined undocumented immigrants because they can get a gold-plated ID.

More proof was presented during a sentencing hearing in state court last week, when 2nd Judicial District Judge Judith Nakamura handed Tin Cheung four years in prison and a $110,000 fine for running the illicit driver’s license ring.

A jury convicted Cheung in August on 56 counts of racketeering, conspiracy, forgery and other charges. He’s hardly a rare exception. In recent years immigrants have been funneled here from Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Poland and Russia to get an official government ID with 12 tamper-proof security features, including a laser-perforated Zia symbol that police can shine a light through on late-night stops and magnetic bar codes with driver information.

It’s kept the MVD, and the courts, busy.

And it’s made New Mexico and the nation decidedly less safe as criminals that could even include terrorists take full advantage.

The U.S. Congress adopted the Real ID Act in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks to protect national security. It set national requirements for state-issued licenses, including proof of legal U.S. residency, for people to enter federal buildings or board commercial airplanes.

Yet New Mexico and Washington state remain out of compliance.

New Mexico could easily comply with the federal law and still accommodate residents in the country illegally, as other states have done, by reserving driver’s licenses for legal residents and requiring undocumented immigrants to get driver’s permits.

Yet some lawmakers continue to argue a two-tier system that puts the burden on undocumented residents is unfair.

To whom? When the legislative session convenes Jan. 19, lawmakers need to decide if they are going to be fair to the legal residents of New Mexico and the United States or continue to cater to the likes of criminals like Tin Cheung.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.