Can an Undocumented Person in New Mexico Get a Driver’s License?

Undocumented persons in New Mexico have an opportunity apply for what's called a Driving Authorization Card (DAC).

In a small number of U.S. states, someone who was born outside the U.S. and who has no legal U.S. immigration status (in other words, is “undocumented” or “illegal”) can nevertheless obtain a driver’s license. Undocumented persons in New Mexico may apply for what’s called a Driving Authorization Card (DAC).

Note that undocumented persons in New Mexico do not receive the same card as people who are lawfully present in the United States. The latter (including people who have been approved for DACA) receive a REAL ID Act-compliant driver’s license.

This article explains New Mexico’s law on getting a DAC if you are an undocumented person.

Legal Implications of Obtaining a New Mexico Driving Authorization Card

Successfully obtaining a New Mexico DAC simply means that you are allowed to operate a vehicle within the state of New Mexico and to carry a photo identity card proving that fact.

Obtaining a New Mexico DAC does NOT give you any sort of legal immigration status in the United States. The state has no power to legalize your U.S. immigration status—this is a matter governed solely by U.S. federal law.

That means, for instance, that you cannot use your card for federal identification purposes or to vote in U.S. elections. And because it’s not considered a “Real ID” card, you won’t be able to use it to fly on commercial planes or to enter certain federal buildings or facilities.

Eligibility for a New Mexico Driver’s Authorization Card

As an undocumented person looking into whether you are eligible for a New Mexico DAC without having legal status or a Social Security Number (SSN), the first question is whether you can meet the basic terms set out in the New Mexico Statutes, at NM Stat § 66-5-9.

This law requires you to:

  • provide personal information, such as your name, birth date, and gender
  • prove your identity and age, as shown by some combination of documents, such as a Social Security Number, individual tax identification number (ITIN), passport from your country of citizenship, or an identification card from the consulate of Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas or such other foreign consulate with which the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) has established a reliable method of verifying the authenticity of the identification card, a valid New Mexico license or identification card, a certified letter of enrollment or a valid identification card issued by a federally recognized Indian nation, tribe, or pueblo, or some other type of document that the MVD has agreed to accept
  • disclose whether you have any convictions for driving under the influence (DWI) in New Mexico or any other state or jurisdiction—and if you have any, show that you have successfully completed an approved DWI prevention and education program
  • if you are between the age of 18 and 25, and this is your first New Mexico DAC, you submit evidence of having successfully completed a bureau-approved DWI prevention and education program
  • provide documents showing that you live in New Mexico, and
  • acknowledge that you understand that a Driving Authorization Card is not valid for federal purposes.

You must also satisfy other basic New Mexico requirements related to obtaining a drivers’ license, such as showing that you can drive. In addition, you will need to have fingerprints taken and pay a fee.

The New Mexico MVD website does a great job at advising you what you will need to do and what documents you will have to supply in order to prove the above things, on its Driver’s Licenses & IDs page.

Note that, if you plan to present documents in a language other than English, you will need to submit a certified translation into English.

Who Should NOT Apply for a New Mexico Driving Authorization Card

Think twice about applying if you have a record of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or other criminal record, have been ordered deported (removed) in the past, or have used false documents to obtain a past drivers’ license. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney about the risks before applying.

While applying for a license does not normally cause the New Mexico MVD to turn someone’s name over to federal authorities, it probably could not refuse such a request if you run into trouble with the law.

What Your New Mexico Driving Privilege Card Will Look Like

If you are approved, your card will be a different color than regular licenses, and will have the words "Not For Federal Purposes."

That means that any local law enforcement or immigration officer looking at it is likely to know that you have no status in the United States. This is a risk that must be balanced with that of driving with no license, which could also get you into trouble with the law and thus placed into deportation (removal) proceedings.

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