Real ID driver’s license law is a Catch-22


COMMENTARY: My driving license is set to expire in a month or so. Having read about the difficulties some people have encountered with the Department of Motor Vehicles I decided to get an early start on the process.

J.R. Lonsway

Courtesy photo

J.R. Lonsway

Like thousands of my fellow New Mexicans, my Social Security card has the name on it that I grew up with, which is not my birth name. It’s the nickname taken from my middle name, and people that I grew up with, and those that know me personally, have always called me Randy. That’s the name I’ve used since I was five or six years old, and when I started working around 1969 or 1970 that was the name affixed to my Social Security card.

Since the Social Security card had a different first name than what was on my driving license and U.S. passport, and that clearly would be an issue judging by the complaints I had read, I opted for one of the alternatives. In this case, the choices were a current W-2, a 1099, or a foreign passport (remember “foreign passport,” I’ll discuss that later). I’m retired under the Public Employees Retirement Association, so I chose my New Mexico 1099 form. I took that, my U.S. passport, and my driving license to DMV, along with two current proof-of-residence forms: a bank statement and an insurance bill.

I got to DMV, had a short wait, a lady called my number, reviewed my forms, and the next thing I knew I was reading the eye chart and then getting my photograph taken. Easy peasy, right? I even texted my wife while the lady made photocopies of my forms and wrote that I was almost finished and I couldn’t believe how fast it was going.

Silly me.

After the lady photocopied my forms, she started processing the paperwork on her computer. When she got to the 1099 issued by the State of New Mexico, she said, “Uh-oh.”

“What is it?”
“You can’t use this form.”
“Why not?”
“Look at your social security number,” she said. “The first five digits are X-ed out.”


True, they were. Like just about every other government agency in the United States, along with corporations and financial institutions, any document issued with a SSN on it has the first five numbers deleted to prevent identity theft and other fraudulent acts. In fact, if you’re old enough to remember, New Mexico driving licenses used to have the SSN printed on them, unless the driver requested otherwise.

Putting the SSN on the license, and on traffic tickets and police reports, ended when it was discovered that identity thieves were utilizing that information to defraud people.

Now, you would think that since the State of New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles put out the information on their Real ID website that a W-2 or 1099 is valid in lieu of a Social Security card, that your local DMV office would accept that, right? Not so. As it was explained to me, if I can’t produce a document with the entire SSN printed out on it, even if said document came from PERA, that document is invalid for obtaining a New Mexico Real ID.

And, no, I could not use the Social Security card in conjunction with the 1099 because the first names were different.

The lady then handed me an information sheet, a photocopy of what was acceptable as a form of identity for obtaining a Real ID, which identified a W-2 or 1099 in lieu of a Social Security card. Nothing is written on that photocopied document, or the NM REAL ID website, about the SSN having to be fully printed out.

Joseph Heller would have been proud.

I went to the Social Security Administration the following day, spoke to a representative there, and he changed the information on my card to reflect what was on my driving license and U.S. passport. Took just a few minutes, and my new card should be here in a week. I’ll make another run at DMV when I get it.

Why did I mention the foreign passport in the second paragraph? My wife is a Mexican citizen living legally in the United States. She got her New Mexico Real ID in under five minutes, no problems, no hassles. It strikes me as ironic that a person who is not a citizen can acquire the Real ID using a foreign passport and have no difficulties whatsoever with the process, whereas the former U.S. Marine, retired police officer and contract worker for the U.S. State Department, who has held two top-secret clearances, gets rejected.

Wasn’t the whole purpose of Real ID to keep out those sneaky foreigners who might do harm to our country? My wife is still laughing at me.

J.R. Lonsway is a retired deputy chief of police with the City of Las Cruces and the author of two books. He blogs at

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