New Mexico governor tries to end licenses for undocumented

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 17, 2012 7:38 PM
New Mexico governor tries to end licenses for undocumented

By Zelie Pollon

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - New Mexico's Republican governor Susana Martinez, the nation's first female Hispanic governor, promised once again on Tuesday to try to repeal a law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses in the state.

Martinez has pushed repeal of the driver's license law since she took office last January, saying it is a public safety issue that invites fraud and trafficking into the state.

New Mexico is one of three states that allow undocumented immigrants to get licenses. The others are Washington and Utah.

"The issue has been debated thoroughly. The desire of New Mexicans is clear. It's time to repeal this law," Martinez said in Tuesday's State of the State address at the start of a 30-day legislative session on the budget.

She said a man recently pled guilty to trafficking humans from Pakistan and elsewhere through New York into New Mexico, "a 'touch and go' to grab our license, to grab our government-issued ID card, and leave," she added.

Democrats, who hold majorities in the legislature, have so far resisted the governor's efforts to repeal the law, originally passed by her Democratic predecessor, Bill Richardson.

But Martinez is hoping that this election year will be different. Democrats now dominate both the House and Senate, but they hold the House by only a slim margin, 36-33 with one Independent.

Democrats say that the issue is purely political.

"If this is really about public safety and not about politics or presidential aspirations, then we have a serious compromise bill," said Democratic Senator Eric Griego.

The compromise bill, drafted last session, offers increased security measures and residency requirements for undocumented immigrants seeking licenses. It includes two new felonies for trafficking in driver's licenses and requires finger printing those without social security cards, Griego said.

Opponents said the driver's license issue has no place in this legislative session.

"The voters are tired of this issue," said Marcela Diaz, executive director of immigrants rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.

(Reporting by Zelie Pollon, editing by Corrie MacLaggan)