Travel Alert: Keep Your Passport Handy

Alert To New Mexico Tech Travelers

Here’s the short story:

Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, New Mexicans might be required to show a valid passport, not just a valid state-issued driver's license, to board a plane.

The state of New Mexico is one of 36 states that has not complied with the federal REAL ID Act. The state has asked for an extension to become compliant, but the Department of Homeland Security has not yet ruled on any of the extension requests.

Anyone who plans to fly anywhere for any reason in 2010 is advised to get a passport to eliminate the possibility of being refused entrance to airports by federal security personnel. If you have a passport, use it as your ID when traveling via plane.

Passports are available at the post office for about $100; a passport ID card runs another $20. You must make an appointment with Paul Bustamante at the Socorro Post Office by calling 835-0542. Applicants must bring an original birth certificate. From the date of an appointment, it takes six to eight weeks to receive your passport. Passports can be expedited for an extra fee.

Also, for foreign nationals, passports from other countries are acceptable forms of identification.

Military identification cards -- either active duty or retured -- are also acceptable.

Here’s the long story:

(Some frequently asked questions about the situation):

What is Real ID?

The Real ID Act was passed by the Congress and signed into law on May 11, 2005 by former President George Bush. The Real ID Act provides that, after a certain date (explained in more detail below), a federal agency is prohibited from accepting for any “official purpose,” a driver’s license or identification card issued by a State to any person that did not meet the requirements of the Real ID Act. Official purposes, under current law, means “accessing Federal facilities, boarding Federally-regulated commercial aircraft and entering nuclear power plants.”

When will the law go into effect?

Originally, the law was supposed to go into effect on May 11, 2008, three years after its enactment. However, states were provided the opportunity by March 31, 2008 to request an “extension” to this deadline. All 50 states requested the extension, and were approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

The new deadline for compliance was set for December 31, 2009 – but the law provided that a state could request an additional extension to no later than May 11, 2011 if that state could certify by October 11, 2009 that it had achieved 18 benchmarks listed on a compliance checklist. Earlier this year, DHS notified states that the date to request this “extension” would be moved to December 1, 2009.As of January 1, 2010, for states that do not request the extension or that do not get approved for the extension by DHS, their driver’s license and identification cards will not be accepted as identification by federal agencies for official purposes (as defined above).

Have all the states applied for the most recent extension, due December 1?

As far as we know, most states have submitted an extension request to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and are awaiting a response.

How many States are not “materially compliant” with Real ID?

There are estimates that over 30 states in the country, including New Mexico, may not be “materially compliant” with REAL ID. Under current law, residents of these states will not be able to use their driver’s license to board commercial aircraft. Of the states cited above, 14 states have actually passed binding legislation that prohibits their state governments from taking steps to comply with Real ID. The National Governor’s Association has also opposed this law and has requested Congress to repeal Real ID and pass new legislation that addresses the concerns raised by many states.

Concerns raised by states include: confidentiality of personal data, invasion of privacy, unfunded mandate, lack of databases to support the requirements of Real ID, and the type of licenses issued to individuals who do not have lawful presence in the United States.

Observers point out that the Real ID Act did not go through a hearing process to seek input from states and the public before it became law. New Mexico has provided a detailed explanation of its compliance checklist, and has outlined in detail the process it uses to follow state law to issue licenses to foreign nationals. Real ID does not allow issuance of “compliant licenses” to individuals who cannot demonstrate lawful status in the United States. In regards to other checklist items, New Mexico has certified its compliance with a couple of technical exceptions

Do I need to get a passport to fly starting Jan 1, 2010?

If the Congress doesn’t repeal Real ID or the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t grant the state an extension, then state residents should carry their passports, if they have one, when flying within or outside the country.

What if I don’t have a passport – what should I do?

We are awaiting official guidance from the Department of Homeland Security, and we will provide answers as soon as we get them.
Will the Congress change REAL ID law?

Pressure has been building on Congress to repeal Real ID. Alternative legislation, called PASS ID, has been introduced to the Congress. PASS ID has been endorsed by the National Governor’s Association. If Congress passes PASS ID before the end of 2009, the deadlines for compliance will be extended and travelers will be able to use existing driver’s licenses for travel.