By Claus Whiteacre
On Monday, several hundred people gathered at the State Capitol in Santa Fe to protest Gov. Susana Martinez’s recent executive order mandating that state police officers ask criminal suspects about their immigration status, and her stated intent to take drivers licenses from undocumented immigrants.
The crowd was a mixture of ages, ethnicities, and walks of life. I noted a friar carrying a sign, lawmakers, activists and people with bundled-up toddlers. There were speeches and chanting and improvised noise-makers made of plastic cups filled with rocks.
A lone counter-protestor holding a sign stood apart from the crowd during the entire rally. While it was balmy compared to last week, it was still a brisk day.
One of the organizers approached the young woman and asked whether she would like a cup of hot chocolate or tea. The offer was declined.
While Gov. Martinez’s administration has defended the executive order as serving public safety, opponents say that that it leads to racial profiling and it jeopardizes public safety by making it less likely for victims of crime to contact the police or testify in court.
To loud cheering from the crowd, Sen. Eric Griego (D-Albuquerque) announced the introduction of SB 419, which would in effect revoke Gov. Martinez’s order.
It reads, in part:
“A law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer of the state or a political subdivision of the state shall not inquire into the immigration status of a person. A law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer of the state or a political subdivision of the state shall not enforce federal civil immigration laws.”
This bill, even if it made it through the obstacle course of committees and floor debate, would most likely be vetoed by Martinez.
During her campaign Martinez also promised to revoke driver licenses granted to undocumented immigrants, a practice which is currently legal in New Mexico. How she would achieve that was unclear.
Proponents of driver’s licenses point out revoking driver’s licenses would be detrimental in terms of public safety and harm the state coffers through lost revenue, as well as be unconscionable in humanitarian terms.
Several bills have been introduced this session that would further the governor’s agenda regarding driver’s licenses.
It will be interesting to watch their progress and see who votes for them in committees.