Driver's Licenses Won't Be Valid At Airports

Nov. 24, 2009
Some 25 states will require passport to board planes in 2010

In less than six weeks, the federal government will be treating New Mexicans as foreigners, as your state driver's license may no longer get you through airport security.

New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Secretary Rick Homans said a new federal law called "The Real ID Law" is putting your driver's license in jeopardy to be used for travel security.

"Right now it's a game of chicken, between the federal government and the state governments," Homans said.

The Bush administration passed the law, designed to stop terrorists from entering the country, after Sept. 11, 2001. All 50 states have to comply with its regulations by Jan. 1, 2010.

Sec. Rick Homans said the clock is ticking and New Mexico is nowhere near close.

"The way it is right now, come Jan. 1st, residents of New Mexico and residents of about 25 other states wouldn't be allowed to board airplanes unless they had a valid passport."

The biggest issue is that New Mexico gives driver's licenses to foreign nationals and illegal immigrants, which under the new law, would be illegal. The Obama administration has been promising to modify the law, but so far no action has been taken. Lawmakers in Washington have been so consumed with health care reform that the "Real ID" law issue has been put on the back burner.

"So I think that's the issue our delegation in Washington needs to deal with," Homans said.

Rep. Ben Lujan is on the Homeland Security Committee, which has yet to take up the issue. But after Action 7 News asked what progress was being made, Lujan sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying:

"I am deeply concerned with the pending implementation of the REAL ID program and its potential effects upon my constituents...I urge you to work in partnership with the states to implement solutions that will best secure our nation while preserving the freedoms that are a key part of our nation's proud history."

While the matter sits in limbo in Washington, in another 40 days you will not be able to get through security if you don't have a passport.

With less than six weeks left, officials in New Mexico are hoping that lawmakers in Washington do something.

"I think the federal government is going to blink and they're going to take action," said Homans. "They're the ones who put the law into place, and they're the ones that need to take it off the table to avoid having a real crisis come January."

Getting A Passport

Until that happens, New Mexicans should start thinking about getting a passport -- because they don't come fast and they don't come cheap.

"If you get the passport and the pictures with us, it's a total of $115, if you bring your own pictures it's $100," said Barbara Wood with the United States Postal Service.

She said it takes about four weeks to get a passport, so if you have any travel plans right after the new year, you need to act fast.

You can start the process by filling out a passport application online, but you will still have to go to the post office to finalize the process. Wood said applicants must bring a birth certificate that's certified or naturalization papers and another form of ID such as a driver's license.

Passports are valid for 10 years.

Because the law is time sensitive, the postal service expects to see a rush of people coming in to get passports. Wood said they'll be prepared.

"If that happens, we will staff our offices with more people to accommodate the public," Wood said.

State officials hope it won't get to that point, but time is ticking and still no word on whether the law will be modified.

see accompanying video, Getting A Passport

More Info

For more information on travel and how to obtain a passport visit the U.S. Department of State's Web site or the U.S. Postal Service Web site.

Online applications forms are also at the U.S. Department of State's travel site at

Copyright 2009 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.