Jennings says comprehensive immigration reform is needed as Senate passes compromise drivers license bill

By Matthew Reichbach

The state Senate voted late Monday evening to pass a bill that would address fraud and tighten residency requirements for undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses. The bill still allows undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses, a sticking point that likely dooms the bill in both the House and from Governor Susana Martinez.

The bill passed on a 27-15 vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) said that this bill would be effective in stopping the instances of fraud that associated with the program that provides upwards of 80,000 licenses to drivers in New Mexico. New Mexico is one of three states that allows undocumented immigrants to legally drive.

He also said that it is not the place of New Mexico to create immigration policy.

“Our problem is a failed policy of the United States government,” Jennings said in a floor speech. He said the Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces) agreed and said, “We keep falling into the trap in our current immigration policy of making criminals out of everybody.”

Sen. Rod Adair (R-Roswell) disagreed, saying, “Drivers licenses are not a right, they are privileges.”

Martinez has indicated that she will not sign a bill if it allows an undocumented immigrant to legally drive in New Mexico. Even a Republican floor substitute brought by Sen. Bill Sharer (R-Farmington) would have failed to meet Martinez’s standard.

Sharer said that his proposed substitute is similar to the Utah system, which allows undocumented immigrants to receive drivers cards that do not function as identification for anything other than driving. In Utah, the drivers cards are clearly different than drivers licenses and state that they cannot be used for identification.

A similar proposal to Sharer’s amendment failed in the House failed on a 33-37 vote.

The Senate bill now heads to the House, where prospects are dim as time runs out in the session which ends on Thursday at noon.

In many ways, the drivers license debate is echoing the debate of last year, as Clearly New Mexico (and many others) previously predicted.

Drivers license debate: The sequel might turn out like the original

By Matthew Reichbach

The debate over drivers licenses for foreign nationals looks like it may be a replay of 2011. The bill failed in a House committee Thursday, but the sponsor of the bill, Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch), vowed to once again blast the bill to the floor of the House, bypassing the committee process.

The debate once again was polarized with opponents on both sides flooding the largest legislative committee chamber to express their opinion on the subject.

Ultimately, the House Labor and Human Resources Committee chose to pass a substitute version of the legislation and table the original legislation. The substitute bill echoes the drivers license legislation passed by the Senate last year, which the Senate described as a compromise bill.

Proponents of the repeal touted a recent Associated Press report that indicated fraud in drivers license procurement while opponents of the repeal said the reported fraud could be handled with better enforcement and more stringent laws rather than the drastic measure of the repeal.

The substitute bill would instate tighter residency requirements, limit drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants to two years and increase penalties for anyone involved in purchasing drivers licenses through fraudulent means.

Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla told reporter Gwyneth Doland that there was 80 percent fraud in the drivers license process. It is unclear what sample Padilla is using in her claims, however.

You can listen to the interview for yourself: 
Secretary Demesia Padilla on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants by gwyneth-doland

Even if the substitute version of the drivers license legislation passes the House — not an assurance as Democrats have a razor-thin majority and Democrat-turned-Independent Andy Nuñez vehemently opposes the substitute legislation — and the Senate, Gov. Susana Martinez has expressed her opposition to the bill.

If the substitute bill does not pass the House and Nuñez’s original version does, it will likely once again fail in the state Senate. If this turns out to be the outcome, the drivers license debate will be nothing but a rerun of 2011.


Democrats have characterized Martinez and the Republicans as unwilling to compromise. In her State of the State address, however, Martinez said she compromised by adopting something that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Al Park (D-Albuquerque) said.

Milan Simonich subsequently dug into the statement that raised eyebrows at New Mexico Capitol Report and found that the claims of compromise were dubious at best.

Park, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview that Nunez’s initial bill would have revoked the driver’s licenses of foreign nationals. This would have subjected those in the country legally and illegally to losing their driver’s licenses.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said Nunez simply could not take away more than 80,000 driver’s licenses that motorists had paid for. They had a property right to what they had purchased.

Maestas said revocations would have cost cash-poor New Mexico millions of dollars in refunds.

Keith Gardner also made a claim about a compromise during the hearing. From KRQE reporter Katie Kim:

The substitute bill now heads to House Judiciary Committee.

Hundreds rally at Roundhouse in support of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

By Matthew Reichbach

A nun participating in the protest against repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

Hundreds of immigrants and supporters of immigrant drivers licenses rallied outside the Roundhouse Tuesday morning hoping to send a message to Gov. Susana Martinez. The rally, so far the largest at the Roundhouse in the 2012 session, included support from the Catholic Church and organized labor.

A theme among the protests was that keeping the current drivers license policy promotes greater public safety by giving law enforcement a current and complete database of driving and other offenses.

“You drink, you drive, who knows?” was a popular chant, referring to the popular anti-DWI campaign, “You drink, you drive, you lose.”

Allen Sanchez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking at drivers license rally. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

The Catholic Church has been a staunch opponent of the movement to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to earn New Mexico drivers licenses.

Allen Sanchez, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed his speech from a similar rally in September.

“I have a message,” Sanchez told the crowd. “Governor, Jesus was an immigrant!”

Sanchez said that this is a “gospel issue” for the Catholic bishops in New Mexico and said that the legislature should instead be focused on other priorities during the session — notably funding schools and creating jobs.

Daniel Manzano, Director of Policy and Communication for the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that keeping drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants was important for his group for three main reasons.

For example, it allows victims of domestic violence to be able to drive away from abusive husbands “safely and legally.” He also said that driver licenses would allow these women to be financially independent. He also said the drivers licenses count as a form of identification for the courts, which is necessary to get an order of protection.

“The weather can’t even stop us today,” Manzano said, referring to the overcast skies and occasional flakes of snow dropping onto the large crowd.

Odds and Ends

  • A clever noisemaker that was handed out to many protesters was made out of two plastic cups taped together with rocks inside.
  • A chant that the protesters repeated while marching around the Roundhouse and in front of the rally’s stage was, “Susana, escucha, somos en la lucha!” Loosely translated, that means, “Susana, listen, we are in the struggle!”
  • The most popular headwear at the rally was Los Angeles Dodgers hats. The Dodgers are popular among the Mexican-American community in large part because of Fernando Valenzuela, the legendary Mexican lefthander who won 173 games in 17 big league seasons.
  • For more photos, see my Flickr set.