New Mexico Governor Renews Fight to Repeal Immigrant-License Law

New Mexico is one of two states that issues unrestricted licenses to undocumented immigrants.
by | January 25, 2013

By Jim Malewitz

Governor Susana Martinez has renewed her fight against a law that allows undocumented immigrants in New Mexico to receive driver’s licenses.

“I am once again asking the legislature to repeal the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants,” she said this week on her Facebook page.

The announcement from the Republican, who unsuccessfully pushed for repeal in 2011, comes as more undocumented immigrants are gaining driving privileges. Only New Mexico and Washington issue them unrestricted licenses, but Utah allows those who have lived in the state for more than six months to apply for a “driving privilege card.” A law passed this month in Illinois grants temporary licenses.

Meanwhile, as Stateline has reported, more than a dozen states will offer licenses to young immigrants who qualify for President Obama’s “deferred action” program, which allows some undocumented students, veterans and recent high-school and college graduates to stay in the country.

Proponents say that trend has opened up work opportunities to undocumented immigrants, while increasing road safety by keeping unlicensed and uninsured drivers off the road -- those who haven’t had eye or road tests.

But critics of the policy, including Martinez, say it rewards illegal behavior. Additionally, the governor has argued the law has made New Mexico increasingly attractive to illegal immigrants, who come for licenses but don’t stay.

“We have created an industry of human trafficking,” Martinez said in 2011, according to CNN. “People are getting paid to bring other people from all over the country to New Mexico for the whole purpose of defrauding our state.”

Martinez has also worried about whether New Mexico’s law would jeopardize its chances of complying with the federal government’s controversial Real ID law, a Bush-era policy meant to tighten border security by making license requirements stricter. Those concerns were somewhat eased, however, when the Department of Homeland Security pushed back a January 15 compliance deadline.

Some New Mexico lawmakers are seeking compromise, such as a two-tiered licensing system similar to those in Illinois and Utah.

Martinez said she is “willing to discuss this issue with legislators from both parties and explore ways to find common ground, but I believe the most effective solution is to simply repeal this dangerous law.”

Stateline  |  Nonpartisan, Nonprofit News Service of the Pew Charitable Trusts  |

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