New Mexico Governor Uses Anti-Immigrant Driver’s License Proposal as Fundraising Tool

Written by on February 11, 2014 in State and Local with 3 Comments

4173667148_02075de882_zJoan Friedland is a senior advisor at the National Immigration Law Center.

For the fifth time in four years, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is trying to get the legislature to repeal the 2003 law granting licenses to all eligible drivers, regardless of their immigration status.

There’s no reasonable expectation that the bill she supports this year—HB 127—will fare better than the identical version that failed last year. But rescinding the driver’s license law is grist for the governor’s fundraising mill. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the governor’s December 2013 fundraising pitch claimed, “Now, our opponents want us to give up. They are organized and well financed so I am asking you to join me by contributing whatever you can to help make sure we go into the session prepared to fight.”

But opponents of repeal scoffed at that characterization of the current law’s supporters, describing them as “members of the community, going to school, holding jobs who need a driver’s license to continue functioning.” Oilfield, dairy, and other workers recently held a rally at the state Capitol to defend the current law.

The governor’s use of the driver’s license issue is consistent with her anti-immigrant history. According to the National Journal, which describes her stance on immigration policy as “hawkish,” the governor labeled her 2010 primary opponent “as pro-amnesty, because he supported George W. Bush’s immigration-reform plan.”

HB 127 would repeal current law and require proof of “authorized period of admission into the United States” to obtain a regular license. It would provide a second tier license only to individuals granted deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These separate, temporary licenses are “not intended to be accepted by federal agencies for official federal purposes.”

The bill’s restrictive “authorized period of admission” requirement could prevent many lawfully present non-citizens from obtaining licenses, potentially including asylees and asylum applicants, persons granted Temporary Protected Status, survivors of domestic violence who have been granted deferred action, certain applicants for lawful permanent residence, and family members of active duty military members granted parole in place (which allows them to adjust their status in the U.S.) It’s a much narrower category of eligible immigrants than is listed in the REAL ID Act or in the laws of every other state, including states that have been certified by the department of Homeland Security (DHS) as compliant with REAL ID.

And giving DACA recipients a license “not intended to be accepted by federal agencies for official federal purposes” is no act of generosity. DACA recipients are lawfully present in the U.S. Under REAL ID, deferred action is a specific legal status that permits the issuance of licenses that can be accepted by federal agencies for official federal purposes. And virtually every state issues a regular driver’s license to DACA recipients, not the scarlet letter license that the governor’s bill contemplates.

The governor’s mean-spirited proposal runs counter to a growing trend. In 2013, eight states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico passed laws expanding immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses. These states recognized the public safety benefits of ensuring that all drivers are trained, tested, and insured.

The 2014 legislative session in New Mexico runs for only 30 days and is intended to cover budget issues and certain other issues specified by the governor. Given the integral and increasing role that immigrants play as workers and taxpayers in the New Mexico economy, it’s a shame that the governor uses access to driver’s licenses to advance her political goals and to place public safety at risk.

Photo by Emilio Labrador.

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  • john wilson


    There is a national trend to recognize the significant contributions that Latinos make to the political, economic and social lives of all Americans and to look for sensible solutions to the immigration debate.

    As Tom Donahue, US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, said in his 2013 State of American Business address which included Enacting Comprehensive Immigration Reform:
    “America needs big solutions, so it’s time to put the smallness of politics aside and put the country first. He continued, “Let’s remember who we are and where our families would be today if earlier generations of Americans had decided to slam the door shut. The door to the American dream must always remain open.”

    New Mexico has taken the lead in promoting public safety measures for all by allowing immigrant families to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. Many states are following in our steps. In addition to Washington State and Utah, the states of California, Connecticut, Texas, Florida and Vermont are actively considering legislation to provide driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. The Illinois legislature just passed a bipartisan bill allowing immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses; the Mayor of Chicago had this to say:
    “This is a great accomplishment, to allow people to take their kids to school, places of worship and get themselves to work. I want to take this victory, savor what it is and use it as the energy to move and bring comprehensive immigration reform.”

    Anti-immigration measures harm states’ economies
    After SB1070 passed in 2010, people across the country joined a boycott of Arizona companies, the state lost tourism and convention dollars and some of its best customers and workers decided to relocate. The Center for American Progress estimated that Arizona would lose 45 million in lodging revenue alone.
    Arizona was eventually forced to spend $250,000 for a marketing campaign to improve its image.

    The agricultural industry has been devastated in states that have harsh immigration laws.
    Georgia’s agricultural industry suffered severe labor shortages after passing HB 87, an immigration enforcement bill. Millions of dollars were lost when produce was left to rot in the fields. US citizens did not fill those jobs. Alabama lost thousands of workers after passing HB 56 and it is calculated that their economy will shrink $2.3 billion annually.

    New Mexico has a long history of welcoming immigrants. We cannot afford now, especially in these economic times, to play with policies of exclusion. Immigration Reform will take place at the federal level. At the state level we must work together to make sure we have immigrant policies that foster economic growth taking into account that

    • In New Mexico, immigrants make up more than half of the labor force in the agricultural and dairy industries.
    • The gas and oil industries depend on immigrant workers for their success.
    • Immigrants are a vital part of the hospitality, construction and landscaping industries of our state.
    • In addition to enriching the state’s economy as workers and business owners, immigrant families are consumers, tax payers and they are our neighbors.
    • It is estimated that undocumented immigrants pay the state of New Mexico between $47 and $69 million in taxes each year.
    • As business owners we need to have reliable forms of identification when our costumers buy liquor and/or cigarettes; when our clients pay with checks or credit cards.
    • Without a driver’s license it’s almost impossible to buy a car, register it and obtain auto insurance.
    • In addition to a public safety issue driver’s licenses for immigrants is an economic necessity.

    As members of the business community we urge our legislators not to repeal driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and focus on the real priority of New Mexicans, making the economy work for everyone.

  • Pingback: Anti-Immigrant DL Proposal = Fundraising Tool for Martinez | The Latest News on NM Drivers' Licenses()

  • AnthonyM

    Thank You Governor Martinez for doing your job and protecting New Mexican citizens from this awful law that is a public safety hazards to all Americans who call New Mexico their home like me.