Groups sue MVD for denying non-REAL ID licenses & ID cards to eligible New Mexicans

SANTA FE, NM – Today, civil rights groups and homeless advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department (TRD) and the Motor Vehicles Division (MVD) on behalf of New Mexicans who were illegally denied Driver’s Authorizations Cards (DACs) and non-REAL ID identification cards, charging that the state has failed to fully and correctly implement its two-tiered driver’s license law.

The requirement of unnecessary documentation for DAC’s and non-federally compliant ID cards has caused chaos at local MVDs and major confusion and frustration for applicants across New Mexico. The lawsuit challenges MVD’s onerous and illegal regulations governing the issuance of non-REAL ID licenses and identification cards, including the illegal practices of requiring proof of identification number and not providing adequate due process to applicants who are denied.

The lead plaintiff, Santa Fe’s former Mayor David Coss, was denied a DAC four times at his local MVD because he lost his social security card, which is not a requirement under the law.  Coss, whose long-held driver’s license has since expired, was also not provided an adequate process to appeal the denial.

“A driver’s license and ID card are not luxuries,” said Coss at Monday’s press conference. “I’m the primary childcare provider to my toddler grandchildren, and I drive them around town. I’m also the guardian of my 86-year-old father who suffered a stroke last year. I need my license to carry out my daily responsibilities. I followed the law and took my paperwork into MVD before my license expired but was turned away every time. I know I’m not the only New Mexican dealing with this nightmare.”

Individual plaintiffs denied licenses and ID cards are joined by organizational plaintiffs, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Somos) in the lawsuit. David Urias of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, P.A. is the lead counsel on the legal team that includes attorneys from Somos, ACLU-NM, and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

The plaintiffs include senior citizen, immigrant, and homeless individuals who need a license or ID to go to work or school, obtain housing, medical care or other necessities, but were illegally denied an MVD credential without written notice detailing the reasons for the denial or information about how to appeal it.

“It is quite common for people to lose their ID and other paperwork when they become homeless,” said Hank Hughes, executive director of New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. “Getting a new ID is essential for them as they get back on their feet. You cannot rent an apartment or even a motel room without an ID. We are asking MVD to follow the law and make it possible for people to replace lost or stolen IDs quickly.”

In 2016, Republican and Democratic legislators came together and created a two-tiered driver’s license system that gives New Mexicans the choice to opt in or out of the federal REAL ID Act. According to the law, the state must provide a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card to eligible residents who want it and can meet the federal government’s onerous requirements. An alternative non-REAL ID license or ID card for otherwise eligible applicants who do not meet the federal requirements or simply do not want a REAL ID, must also be made available.

“REAL ID was always a bad idea,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU-NM.  “The spirit of the 2016 bipartisan fix is not being honored. The Legislature understood just how difficult getting a REAL ID license would be for many New Mexicans. That is why legislators worked hard to ensure people had an alternative, especially vulnerable New Mexicans like people experiencing homelessness, Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, senior citizens and people living in in rural communities.”

“After a protracted six-year battle on driver’s licenses, the New Mexico Legislature voted to create an alternative to the REAL ID Act for all New Mexicans, not just immigrants,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido. “For over a year, we worked with allied groups throughout the state to educate the public about its rights and advocate for a better process at MVD. Everyone has done their job except this administration. Our goal with this lawsuit is to help resolve these issues quickly for all New Mexicans.”

“An identification card is a basic necessity to function in everyday life, but the MVD is illegally requiring unnecessary and overly burdensome documentation that most folks simply cannot come up with. The harm caused by the illegal requirements is compounded by the MVD’s failure to provide a way for New Mexicans to challenge an erroneous denial of driver’s license or ID card.” said Sovereign Hager, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The MVD should follow the law rather than wrecking the lives of people who need an ID to drive, support their families, and find housing.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are the TRD, acting Cabinet Secretary John Monforte, MVD, and acting director Alicia Ortiz.

Click here to view a copy of the complaint: http://nmpovertylaw.org/coss-v-monforte-january-2018/

Click here to view plaintif profiles: http://nmpovertylaw.org/plaintiff-stories-coss-v-manforte-lawsuit/

‘NM Together for Healthcare’ launches campaign for affordable healthcare for all New Mexicans

Statewide effort includes an innovative Medicaid buy-in plan

ALBUQUERQUE, NM: On Friday, New Mexico organizations and individuals launched NM Together for Healthcare, a campaign to make good healthcare affordable for everyone in the state. The campaign includes an initiative to advance an innovative Medicaid buy-in plan to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare.

“We are all equal in deserving health care,” said Alfonso Yazzie, healthcare leader from Yah-ta-hey, New Mexico.

In the upcoming Legislative Session, NM Together for Healthcare will be supporting state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and state Rep. Debbie Armstrong’s memorials to explore a Medicaid buy-in plan for New Mexico. The buy-in—a concept that is gaining momentum nationally with similar bills introduced in Congress and currently in progress in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Iowa—opens up Medicaid to allow more consumers to buy low cost coverage through a Medicaid plan. This provides people with affordable health care and creates more choices in the insurance market.

“Our work will not be done until all New Mexicans have access to affordable, quality health care,” said Armstrong, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee. “We need innovative policies like Medicaid buy-in to make sure all families are cared for.”

NM Together for Healthcare began its campaign after hearing from New Mexicans that despite recent improvements through the Affordable Care Act, quality health care is still out of reach for many.

“My father worked as a custodian for 30-plus years in the schools,” said Maximina Urritia, a healthcare leader from Anthony. “After retiring, both my parents fell ill. With no insurance, and a budget of $700 per month from my dad’s retirement, they knew they could not afford the medical attention or medications they needed. Without that care, they died too early. Healthcare would have saved my parents lives.”

Currently, more than 180,000 New Mexicans, like Maximina’s parents, don’t have healthcare coverage.

“No one should have to go without healthcare because it is too expensive,” said Sireesha Manne, healthcare supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, “Medicaid already helps more than 850,000 New Mexican children and families get comprehensive care, and could be opened up to everyone as a low-cost option. The buy-in plan is a promising solution.”

The campaign’s website can be found at: http://nmtogether4health.org/

Follow the campaign on Facebook @NMTogether4Healthcare and Twitter @NMT4HC.

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial campaign of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New Mexico and New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

 

 

Closing briefs filed in landmark education lawsuit against State of New Mexico

Education lawsuit asserts students’ state constitutional rights are being violated

SANTA FE, NM – Attorneys from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) have filed closing briefs for their consolidated lawsuit (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) against the State of New Mexico for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education as mandated by the New Mexico Constitution.

The consolidated lawsuits claim the state’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools, and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students, and students with disabilities – of a sufficient education.

Plaintiffs in the suit seek a declaration that the system is unconstitutional and that the system should provide the opportunity for all students to be ready for college and career. The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after eight weeks of testimony.

The closing brief for Martinez v. New Mexico – filed in April 2014 on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden – contends that the state is in violation of the Education Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s education system has failed to provide adequate resources, programs, and oversight for economically disadvantaged students, English language learner (ELL) students, and students with disabilities.

Additionally, the Martinez closing brief asserts that the state’s education system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution by denying equal treatment to economically-disadvantaged and ELL students. For example, these students are generally taught by less experienced and less skilled teachers than other students. The closing brief also claims violation of the Due Process Clause of the New Mexico Constitution because the state’s irrational and unreasonable funding policies prevent students with disabilities, as well as ED and ELL students, from receiving a sufficient education.

“The evidence shows that the state’s failures are not just a matter of money or policy, but that the education system as a whole deprives at-risk students of the opportunity to be ready for college and career,” said Ernest I. Herrera, MALDEF staff attorney.

The closing brief for Yazzie v. State of New Mexico argues the evidence presented in the trial indisputably shows that most New Mexico students are not college, career, and civics ready. A majority of the state’s public school students have not been provided a sufficient education in order to be able to read, write, or do math at grade level, and the state also consistently has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

“These are not achievement gaps, attributable to shortcomings of our children, families, and educators,” said Gail Evans, legal director of the Center. “These are opportunity gaps attributable to a broken system that does not effectively serve our children.”

The Center asserts that the state fails to provide school districts with enough funding and support. For example, despite evidence that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program successfully closes achievement gaps, only a minority of children have access to those programs. Further, the closing brief claims New Mexico’s public education system is constitutionally insufficient for Native Americans, having failed to satisfy the New Mexico Indian Education Act (2003), which requires the state to provide Native students a culturally-relevant education, and to collaborate with tribes in doing so.

The Yazzie plaintiffs specifically seek an injunction requiring the state to take to take three actions: first, no later than the 2019-2020 school year, to develop a comprehensive plan of programs and services to provide a uniform and sufficient system of public education to all students in New Mexico; second, to provide sufficient increased funding and a revised formula for distributing funds to the public school districts; and lastly, to establish an effective system of accountability and enforcement to ensure that every child in New Mexico is receiving a sufficient education.

The state sought to dismiss the lawsuits, but the court in Martinez denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. The court consolidated the two cases in 2015.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton is expected to make a declaration this spring.

Teleconference: Closing Briefs Filed in Landmark Education Lawsuit Against State

MEDIA ADVISORY

 
WHAT:      
The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) will hold a teleconference press briefing to discuss closing arguments for their consolidated lawsuit against the State of New Mexico (Yazzie v. State of New Mexico and Martinez v. State of New Mexico) for its failure to provide all public school students a sufficient education in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

WHEN:   
Wednesday, January 10, 2018  at 10:30 a.m. MT

WHO:   
Gail Evans, Legal Director, the Center
Preston Sanchez, Attorney, the Center
E. Martin Estrada, Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Co-counsel, MALDEF
Ernest Herrera, Staff Attorney, MALDEF

DIAL-IN:     
1-800-672-0175

WHY:          
This landmark lawsuit asserts that the State of New Mexico’s inadequate funding of public schools and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight deprives children – particularly low-income, Native American and English language learner students – of the support necessary to be college, career, and civics ready.

Yazzie v. State of New Mexico was filed by the Center in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The lawsuit was filed to remedy the state’s failure to provide New Mexico students with the educational services they need to succeed. The families represented have children who are English language learners (ELL), Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

Martinez v. State of New Mexico was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. It was filed in April 2014 by MALDEF following extensive discussions with community groups, local leaders, and parents in New Mexico concerning chronic achievement gaps on standardized tests and other systemic failures.

The state sought to dismiss the lawsuits, but the court in Martinez denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. The court consolidated the two cases in 2015.

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017 and concluded on August 4 after nine weeks of testimony. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the current system of public education constitutionally insufficient, and order the state to provide the programming and resources necessary for all public school students to succeed, as well as ensure that funds are distributed equitably, including for economically disadvantaged and ELL students.

 

The closing briefs for Martinez v. State of New Mexico and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico have been submitted.

The Martinez plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

https://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/Martinez_Closing_Arguments_In_Chief.pdf

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ brief can be found at:

http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzieclosingbrief-2018-01-09-final

A summary of the Yazzie brief can be found at: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-closing-brief-summary-2018-01-09/

Stamped copies will be available once the court provides them. Note briefs are embargoed until Wednesday, January 10th at 11:30 a.m. MT.

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The mission of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is to advance economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. The Center works with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty. Underlying its mission is a vision of New Mexico without poverty, where all peoples’ basic human rights are met. For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/. For media inquiries, please contact Maria Archuleta at (505) 255-2840 or Maria.A@nmpovertylaw.org.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org. For media inquiries, please contact Sandra Hernandez at (213) 629-2512 ext. 129 or shernandez@maldef.org.