New Mexico to Debate Immigrant Licenses

By: - September 6, 2011 12:00 am

New Mexico is one of just three states, along with Utah and Washington, that allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. But that could change soon as lawmakers return to Santa Fe today (September 6) for a special session on redistricting, one that will also address the politically charged question of whether undocumented residents should have the right to drive.

Supporters of New Mexico’s current law, approved in 2003, say that immigrants who are in the state illegally will probably drive anyway, and that allowing them to obtain licenses simply ensures they will do so more safely. Critics say the state has become a haven for illegal immigrants who are using its tolerant laws to acquire identification and evade detection and deportation by immigration authorities.

Republican Governor Susana Martinez, who took office in January, has made repealing the driver’s license law one of her top legislative priorities, but she could not deliver during the regular session when her preferred bill died in the state Senate after clearing the state House. Now, Martinez is turning up the pressure on state lawmakers and pushing them to pass the legislation along with a number of other measures during what could be a busy session, The Santa Fe New Mexican reports . Dozens of pro-immigrant protesters are expected to turn up at the state capitol today to register their complaints with the governor’s attempt to repeal the driver’s license law.

According to at least one high-ranking lawmaker, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, the dynamics surrounding the repeal legislation are different from those that prevailed during the regular session. This time, Ingle believes, the chances of the bill clearing his chamber are better. “The driver’s license will be a pretty strong debate,” Ingle tells the New Mexican . “I think we’ll get that passed.”

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