During the upcoming 2012 legislative session New Mexico’s heroic governor Susana Martinez will for the third time attempt to repeal the 2003 bill that allows illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses. [A New Finish Coming for Old Driver’s License Fight, by Steve Terrell, The New Mexican, January 16, 2012]
New Mexico, one of three states with Washington and Utah that permit aliens to drive legally, has issued more than 80,000 licenses to foreign nationals since 2003.
In 2011, the repeal bill passed the Republican dominated House but was gutted beyond recognition in the Democratic Senate. This election year, the legislature leans toward backing Martinez. The governor, her Republican allies and Independent Representative Andy Nunez insist that granting licenses to aliens has encouraged criminals to come to New Mexico. Licensing aliens represents a huge security risk since the document is the United States’ de facto identification and is used for functions ranging from the routine like opening checking accounts to the potentially disastrous like boarding airplanes.
Said Nunez, the bill’s sponsor:
“We have an election coming up. I think legislators will take into account that if the majority of their constituents tell them to vote for it, I think they’re going to vote for it.”
Democrat Senator Steve Fischmann, who voted against the repeal last year, said last week that he might support Nunez this time around. Fischmann confirmed that many of his constituents overwhelmingly favor the repeal.
In 2010, the Albuquerque Journal polled local residents and found that 72 percent opposed licenses for aliens. Last summer, after numerous incidents of fraud involving non-residents were exposed, Governor Martinez’s administration sent 10,000 letters to foreign citizens with New Mexico driver’s licenses asking that they provide proof of residency. More than a third of the letters were returned as undeliverable, confirming her fraud suspicions.
Not surprisingly, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund claims that another repeal effort is unconstitutional. Last week, MALDEF filed a separate lawsuit in state court on behalf of an unnamed woman who worked at the Motor Vehicle Division in Albuquerque. The woman insisted that she was not allowed to translate the application requests from Spanish speakers and said she was fired after complaining about how the immigrants were treated.
David Hinojosa, MALDEF’s Southwestern regional counsel said about Martinez’s action:
“It’s incredibly divisive, and on top of that, it also has created an atmosphere of hostility for many New Mexicans with lawful status and without lawful status.”
However, Demesia Padilla, secretary for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, characterized MALDEF’s lawsuit as the transparent efforts of a political special interest group:
“…in their quest to defend a policy of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants that most New Mexicans find to be indefensible.”
In a statement, Padilla added said the anonymous woman’s claims are false and described her as a part-time employee with a poor work record.
Update: On January 26, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez suffered a temporary setback in her bid to stop New Mexico from granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
The House Labor and Human Resources Committee shelved her proposal and approved a Democrat-backed alternative that continues to allow licenses for illegal immigrants but with new restrictions. This is consistent with the pattern New Mexico Democrats followed last year.
However, Gov. Martinez is undeterred. The repeal legislation will soon head to another panel for consideration. Martinez remains confident that she will be successful if the bill reaches the full 70-member House for a floor vote.