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.

House passes bill to repeal drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

By Matthew Reichbach

The State House of Representatives passed a House Bill 103 today, a measure sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) and supported by Governor Susana Martinez, which would repeal the 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses in the state of New Mexico. The 45 – 25 approval vote bettered last session’s 42 – 28 margin.

The three hour debate focused largely on floor substitute bills for, or amendments to, the legislation.

Much of that debate time was devoted to a floor substitute, sponsored by Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants), which tracked with the Senate “compromise” substitute that emerged during the 2011 regular session. It would have continued to allow undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses, but would have stiffened penalties for fraud.

Martinez’s substitute would have strengthened the residency requirements for getting a license, required those without a social security number to provide a finger print, and limited the license to two years. It would set higher fee on s drivers license without a social security number.

The substitute would also verify the residence of the 90,000 foreign nationals who currently have New Mexico drivers licenses.

Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque) said in his experience the reason undocumented immigrants got drivers licenses was the same reason undocumented immigrants got forged Social Security Numbers — to appear as if they are legally in the United States.

Rep. Dennis Roch (R-Tucumcari) said the idea of the Senate compromise that passed the Senate last year was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

“The Senate compromise that I heard last year is really a Senate illusion,” Roch said, saying that it would not solve the problem of fraud that prompted this legislation.

The substitute failed on a 40-29 vote.

A floor substitute sponsored by Rep. Bill O’Neill (D-Albuquerque) also failed. That amendment would have created a drivers card for undocumented immigrants that would not be an actual license. While allowing them to drive and getting their information into the state database, the card could not be used as proof of identification outside of New Mexico or for travel purposes.

That substitute failed on a 37-33 vote.

Other amendments by Rep. Tomas Garcia (D-Ocate) that cleaned up and clarified ambiguous language in the bill successfully passed.

The bill will now head to the Senate where it is expected once again to run the gauntlet of changes along the lines of the failed Martinez House floor substitute.

  • Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) stirred controversy with comments during the debate in which he likened the effect of lies he said were being told and retold about immigrant people to the impact of propaganda employed in Nazi Germany.
  • Referring to the flood of hate mail he has been receiving for opposing the repeal bill, Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) read one letter he recently received which said, among other things, “May God strike you down.”
  • Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff said there is no plans to do Arizona-style immigration law, according to Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican:

    “There’s no desire to do immigration law. The governor has said in public that we’re not in the business of doing immigration law.”

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.

Round 3 on Drivers License Debate Coming

By Matthew Reichbach

Governor Susana Martinez promised today to bring back the controversial and time-consuming issue of repealing a law that permits undocumented immigrants to receive New Mexico drivers licenses. Significantly, both the pro- and anti-repeal sides on this question claim that their respective positions better protect the public’s safety.

Martinez, and proponents of the repeal, claim that immigrants from other countries come to the state for the purpose of getting drivers licenses, making this an issue of national security as well as public safety. Conversely, opponents of repeal say that letting undocumented immigrants, who live and work in New Mexico, earn drivers licenses makes the roads safer through accident and fatalities reduction, lower insurance rates, and simply providing law enforcement with a complete database of who is driving and what their driving record is.

The Senate and House could not come to an agreement during the 2011 regular session on a bill and the session ended without one being sent to Governor Martinez’s desk. The Senate version would have allowed undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses, but would have clamped down on fraud. That bill would also have required foreign nationals to have their fingerprints taken in order to receive a drivers license.

This fall’s special session saw Martinez once again bring the repeal up in the face of heavy opposition. The primary purpose of the special session was ostensibly the daunting once-in-a-decade task of redistricting. Nevertheless, Martinez put the drivers license issue, along with several other non-redistricting related items, on her call.

Despite her action, the legislature did not take up the drivers license issue during the special session, although there was extensive media attention on the issue, both in the state and nationally.

Now, once again, the issue will be back for a third time under Martinez.

Washington is the other state that issues drivers licenses without regard to the applicant’s immigration status. Utah has adopted the approach of creating a two-tier system, with undocumented immigrants allowed to receive a “driving privilege card.”

Martinez has rejected such a two-tier system.

Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), who supports the Governor on repeal, nonetheless is concerned that the debate on such a controversial question would dominate the upcoming session— one limited to just 30 days with a focus on passing a state budget .

“I’d hate for it to dominate. I personally think we have more pressing problems,” Smith told New Mexico Capitol Report’s Milan Simonich.

House committee debates what bills allowed

By Matthew Reichbach

The House Rules Committee ruled Monday morning that two bills relating to driver’s licenses are germane to Gov. Susana Martinez’s proclamation. Both votes were on party-line votes, with Democrats voting that the bills are germane and Republicans voting the bills are not germane.

The Rules Committee decides whether bills are allowed to be heard during the special session. In special sessions, only legislation that is on the governor’s call can be heard.

Two bills relating to driver’s licenses were ruled germane by the committee. One was carried by Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, and another was carried by Rep. Thomas Anderson, R-Albuquerque. Lujan’s bill is similar to the compromise bill the Senate passed in the regular session, while Anderson’s bill mimics the Utah legislation which creates a two-tiered license system, one for undocumented immigrants and one for legal immigrants and citizens.

The votes on the legislation came after the lawmakers on the panel spoke extensively to Raúl Burciaga, the director of the Legislative Council Service, on what should be considered germane in the special session and how closely the lawmakers would have to adhere to Martinez’s call.

Some believed every provision in Martinez’s proclamation must be followed to the exact letter, while others, such as Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, cited Mason’s Rules of Law says that the governor “is limited in what she can do” in mandating what can and cannot be discussed.

Another constant theme during the hearing was Republicans saying that Governor Martinez had the constitutional right to add all the subjects she wanted to the legislation while Democrats said that adding more subjects to the call on a special session that included redistricting was unprecedented.

“The constitution doesn’t put a special session for redistricting, it just has special sessions,” Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-Farmington.

Burciaga said that the Legislative Council Service was unable to find any case of any governor adding other legislation to special sessions that addressed redistricting.

“Every governor has felt it is so important that it should be the only subject that is addressed,” Lujan said.

On Lujan’s bill, Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, expressed concern that it would not meet the requirements set forth in the Real ID Act.

The controversial Real ID Act has been pushed back a number of times.

Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, said, “The governor has the power to call a special session, we have the power to determine what’s germane.”

Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, had three pieces of legislation tabled, with his own agreement, for not being germane to the governor’s call.

The two bills that were ruled germane will now move on to other committees to be considered.

Rally opposes Martinez, drivers license repeal

By Matthew Reichbach


Rally against repeal of immigrant driver's license law

Nearly 200 enthusiastic opponents of the attempt to take away drivers licenses from undocumented immigrants rallied at the State Capitol today. The supporters waved signs, chanted slogans and were in complete opposition to Governor Susana Martinez on the driver’s license law.

Father Juan Montoya of Alamogordo was perhaps the most critical of Martinez.

Father Juan Montoya

Of the driver’s license repeal, Montoya said, “It’s a disgrace to the name Martinez. Maybe you should change your name.”

After a short pause, he said, “How about Palin?”

Legislators, all Democrats, who oppose Martinez’s hard push to repeal drivers licenses for undocumented workers were also at the rally.

Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said that there was a reason that Arizona was divided from New Mexico.

“We are not Arizona,” Maestas said, echoing signs held by supporters surrounding the stage.

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said that since he has been in office the driver’s license issue hasn’t been a problem. He said that’s “because its a political issue” and not about public safety as Martinez has claimed.

The Catholic Church has also put its considerable weight behind opposing the repeal of the law. Allen Sanchez, Executive Director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops again reiterated the bishops opposition to the bill and urged Martinez to “cross the bridge together to compromise.”

In a rally on the opening day of the session, Sanchez said the Catholic Bishops would support the Senate compromise that passed during the regular session but was flatly rejected by Republican legislatures and Martinez as dead-on-arrival.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, mentioned the support of the bishops, saying “We are not only on God’s side thanks to the bishops, we are on the people’s side.”

Ortiz y Pino also said taking drivers licenses away from parents who need to drive to take their kids to school “is an immoral act, no matter what the law says.”

The rally came a day after Martinez first definitively acknowledged that her parents came to the United States illegally. Martinez was speaking to KLUZ-TV, a spanish-speaking station. The governor’s spokesman said that Martinez had no contact with her grandfather, as he left the family when her father was young.

Two Tea Party counter demonstrators at today's rally


Slow second day wraps up at the Roundhouse

By Matthew Reichbach

Except for the bill to fund the special session and the introduction of some legislation, the second day of the 2011 was a slow one. The feed bill passed the House with some legislators questioning the expenses of non-redistricting measures, including the impeachment proceedings against Public Regulations Commission commissioner Jerome Block, Jr.

Meanwhile, the issue of repealing the law allowing undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licenses was relatively quiet, beyond Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) introducing the legislation in the House.

Democrats continued to question the wisdom of adding on contentious legislation in addition to the always-contentious issue of redistricting. They also say that the constitutionally-mandated process of redistricting should take precedence over any of the other things on the governor’s call.

During debate on the feed bill, Rep. James Madalena (D-Jemez Pueblo) said, “I feel that we ought to hear redistricting first, and everything else second, whatever we have time, the duration that we are here.”

Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) suggested having a separate special session for “impeachment proceedings and other items that have been put on our agenda that should be put on the back burner.”

House Majority Leader Ken Martinez (D-Grants) said that he did agree that “the first and most important task is to make sure that all New Mexicans are represented equally.”

Martinez did note that Gov. Susana Martinez had the right to add issues she wanted heard to the special session’s call.

The Senate, meanwhile, heard another presentation from Research & Polling, Inc. president Brian Sanderoff on redistricting.

In an exchange that the Associated Press picked up on, Sanderoff mentioned that the redistricting debate could very well come down to a rural and urban divide.

“It would be impossible mathematically for new representation to not occur on the west side. The trick is this: If new seats are going to emerge on the west side other seats must be consolidated,” Sanderoff told senators on Wednesday as he outlined the population trends that will drive redistricting decisions.

The goal of redistricting is to equalize the populations of districts as much as possible. That was required under the legal doctrine of one person, one vote, to ensure that each resident’s vote is worth the same.

Sanderoff’s company has been contracted to help the legislature with redistricting and will even have an office in the Roundhouse for the duration of the redistricting debate.

Much of the population growth in the state has come in urban areas, while population growth in many rural areas has stagnated or even dropped. This means that rural districts must get geographically larger and larger to pick up enough population — and eventually some districts will grow so large that they need to be consolidated with neighboring districts.

This would bring the possibility of two incumbents running against each other, something legislators generally try to avoid.

Odds and Ends:

  • Susana Martinez is not open to a compromise on the drivers license issue like the one that passed in Utah, according to Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Trip Jennings.
  • The Santa Fe Reporter has a good look at the additional items that Martinez added to the special session agenda.
  • The subcommittee looking at the impeachment of Block will meet tomorrow morning.
  • The Senate Committees on Committee will also meet tomorrow morning. This committee decides whether legislation introduced in the Senate is germane to the call by the governor.
  • Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez announced that he had a guest today; Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. Yesterday, former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson was an announced guest in the Senate chambers. Sanchez and Wilson are facing off in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican was on hand for the unveiling of the United States Postal Service stamp in honor of New Mexico’s centennial.

Redistricting takes backseat in pre-session rallies

By Matthew Reichbach

There was considerable action throughout the Roundhouse even before the special session officially kicked off at noon — and very little of it was related to redistricting. Perhaps this was a signal that the other issues added to the special session agenda will hijack the decennial affair that is mandated by the Constitution to redraw new district lines.

A coalition of groups called New Mexico Can Do Better, which supports the law that allows immigrants to earn drivers licenses in New Mexico, held a rally in the Capitol Rotunda and an hour later a coalition of tea party groups from throughout the state rallied outside the Roundhouse.

Allen Sanchez, representing the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops support the current driver’s license law and noted that Jesus was an immigrant.

“The bishops don’t always get involved but we do when it is an ethical or moral issue,” Sanchez said at the press conference. “This is an ethical issue.”

The tea party groups rallied to protest the law and support the policies that Governor Susana Martinez has added to the special session docket. A common theme among speakers at the tea party was to cut spending.

Therese Cooper, co-founder of the East Mountain Tea Party, likened spending by the state legislature to slavery.

“They have enslaved our state. They have enslaved our people,” Cooper said to cheers from the crowd.

Many speakers at the tea party said that if the legislators did not listen to the will of the people, they would be voted out of office.

The rally by New Mexico Can Do Better was focused on the drivers license issue.

Jose Manuel Escobedo, the Policy Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said that “The law that we have now is a common sense law.”

Sanchez was more personal and mentioned a story about a couple who entered the country without a visa, but then went on to work hard so that their children could have a better life. He then went on to say that they were Susana Martinez’s great-grandparents. The revelation about Martinez’s great-grandparents made national headlines.

The two collections of groups disagreed on whether or not the law made the roads safer.

Tea party members said that studies have shown that the driver’s license law has not reduced the percentage of uninsured drivers on New Mexico roads.

However, putting aside the dispute over the numbers of uninsured motorists, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are licensed drivers

Sheryl Bohlander of Club 54, a conservative group from Santa Fe, said that those who support the current law “will use fear and emotion to push their agenda.”

Another speaker likened the debate to that of good and evil.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, also spoke at the tea party rally and noted that he supports Martinez’s initiatives during the special session, saying that it would be more beneficial to taxpayers to do more than just the redistricting during the special session.

Allen Sanchez led the groups in calling on Martinez to compromise with the legislature, chanting in the Roundhouse hoping that Martinez could hear on the fourth floor.