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.