By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican who has taken a hard line against illegal immigration in her state, said her own grandparents came to the country illegally.
"I know they arrived without documents, especially my grandfather, my father's father," she said in an interview with the Spanish-language television station KLUZ in Albuquerque on Wednesday.
"In those days, the law was very different," she added, saying many people came to the United States without papers back then.
The governor's comments come as she pushes state lawmakers, in a special session this week, to take up a bill to ban immigrants in the country illegally from getting driver's licenses in the state.
Critics blasted the governor for what they called a "disgusting" show of hypocrisy by a woman they say clearly benefited from her grandparents' decision to come to the country without papers.
"Her grandparents shared the same story of many undocumented people. It's a sad day that the governor has chosen to turn her back on the same sacrifices she has benefited from. This is not the governor's finest hour," said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based League of United Latin American Citizens.
New Mexico is one of only three states that allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, a rule some officials fear was drawing illegal immigrants living out-of-state to New Mexico to fraudulently seek licenses.
In a prepared statement, her office said Martinez does not argue with a 1930 Census record, reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper earlier in the summer, that documented her grandfather's illegal status.
Martinez "has always known, and publicly spoken of the fact for years, that her family roots trace back to Mexico," the statement said.
"It's unfortunate that some are choosing to personally attack the governor, but these tactics prove that supporters of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants have run out of legitimate defenses for a bad policy."
Martinez did not have a relationship with her grandfather, who the statement said abandoned her family when her father was young.
Martinez, the country's first Hispanic female governor, has repeatedly called the driver's license law that was instituted under her Democratic predecessor a danger to public security.
Asked by the KLUZ reporter whether she thought her grandfather would pose a threat to public security, Martinez pointed to national security issues in today's world that she said didn't exist then.
"Since that time we've suffered a lot. Simply look at what happened on September 11," she said. "We have to ensure that when the people come to the United States people aren't coming to New Mexico to receive a license with false documents."
Democratic state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino said the only thing that had changed since the governor's grandparents crossed the border was the political perception of immigrants.
"The rules have not changed," he told Reuters. "What changed is this need to find some enemy as the cause to our problems."
(Edited by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)