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.

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.

Legality of Actions Questioned: Duran grilled over voter file examination (UPDATED)

By Matthew Reichbach

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran was grilled by lawmakers at an interim Courts, Corrections and Justice hearing Friday morning. The main topic of discussion was Duran’s decision to send tens of thousands of names that her office says are potentially fraudulent to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), or state police.

Duran repeatedly denied that she was looking for voter fraud throughout the hearing and said numerous times that she is merely trying to ensure “accuracy in the voter files.” Duran blamed the media for stoking the flames of people believing she is looking for voter fraud.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, questioned the legality of sending over 60,000 names on the voter file to the Department of Public Safety instead of referring it to the Attorney General or District Attorneys with jurisdiction in the area.

Chasey quoted section 1-2-1(3) of state election code which says the Secretary of State should “through the attorney general or the district attorney having jurisdiction, bring such actions as deemed necessary and proper for the enforcement of the provisions of the Election Code.”

Chasey also said, “It doesn’t appear to me that DPS should be allowed [under the law] to have social security numbers. That’s my issue on transparency and I don’t think that we want to invade people’s privacy.” Chasey cited 1-4-5(E) in the election code which says:

“It is unlawful for the qualified elector’s date of birth or any portion of the qualified elector’s social security number required on the certificate of registration to be copied, conveyed or used by anyone other than the person registering to vote, either before or after it is filed with the county clerk, and by elections administrators in their official capacity.”

Other legislators wondered why Duran did not send the information to county clerks. Duran said that it was a lot of information and that they are not yet at the step in the process where county clerks will be involved. “We are working closely with them,” Duran said, but added that the clerks will receive the information when the names have been categorized.

When asked, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who oversees the elections in the state’s most populous county, whether it would have been overly burdensome if the Secretary of State’s office had come to her before sending the information to the DPS, Toulouse Oliver told Clearly New Mexico, “Absolutely not.” Continue reading

Hard Times: Colbert to Pick Up Hoe; plus The Great Recession’s Impact on NM

Recently, the United Farm Workers (UFW) launched the “Take Our Jobs” campaign, an effort to highlight the importance of immigrant workers to our food supply — and the difficulties agricultural employers have in maintaining a stable, legal workforce.

Last night, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez was a guest on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Responding to the oft-repeated charge that undocumented immigrants who work in the fields are taking jobs away from American citizens, Rodriquez pointed out that few Americans are willing to take these jobs and their difficult working conditions.  That’s part of the inspiration behind the “Take Our Jobs” challenge.

Unfazed, Steven Colbert accepted the challenge. Sometime soon then, we can expect to see Stephen hoeing and weeding in some field in California or Arizona, camera team in tow.  He asked Rodriguez if there would be air conditioning.  You can watch it here:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Arturo Rodriguez
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

The Great Recession in NM

In other news, a recent report from NM Voices for Children is worth the read.  Entitled “The Great Recession: How New Mexico Workers Are Faring,” it looks at wages and unemployment rates by job sector, compares the impact of the last four recessions on workers, the effect of the Unemployment Compensation program, and the longer-lasting personal consequences of a recession.

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

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How to Win a Drug War: It’s a Good Thing Mexican Drug Cartels Aren’t the British Empire

The Mexican drug cartels are armed and dangerous.  And their business model is thriving.  They sell massive amounts of product in the U.S. – and U.S. arms dealers sell literally tons of weapons to the cartels. (Mexican President Calderon brought this fact to the attention of our Congress:  Of the 75,000 assault weapons seized by Mexican authorities during the last three years, over 80% came from the U.S.)

Indeed, the violence of the drug war is escalating – in Mexico.  Ciudad Juárez is the homicide capital of the western hemisphere. Yet, very little of this violence is spilling across the border according to the latest FBI crime stats.

Christopher Dickey in Newsweek on the FBI stats:

The FBI numbers show that in the midst of the supposed crime wave, many other cities in the Southwest have had declines in crime similar to Phoenix. El Paso, Texas, just across the Rio Grande from a ferocious drug war in Juarez, where some 5,000 people have been murdered in recent years, saw almost no change in its own crime rate and remains one of the safest cities in the country, with only 12 murders last year. San Antonio saw violent crime drop from 9,699 incidents to 7,844; murders from 116 to 99. Compare that with a city like Detroit, which is a little bigger than El Paso and much smaller than San Antonio—and not exactly a magnet for job-seeking immigrants. Its murder rate went up from 323 in 2008 to 361 in 2009.

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Mayor Berry: From the Audacity of Fear to “Never Mind”

So, I’m not exactly complaining, but I AM wondering…what the heck is going on with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and his campaign-era vow to eliminate Albuquerque’s status as a “sanctuary city?”

Berry made that claim last fall when he was locked in a three-way race for mayor with incumbent mayor Martin Chavez and fellow challenger Richard Romero.

Berry accused then-mayor Chavez of overseeing a policy that helped attract immigrant criminals to Albuquerque.  They came, Berry said, because Albuquerque police were not allowed to question a person about his or her immigration status unless the person was already arrested, or unless it was the officer’s opinion that the immigration status might be relevant to a criminal investigation.

Berry pledged to eliminate that policy and restore “common sense policy” to Albuquerque. Berry’s promise drew the ire of immigration rights activists and many other progressives – but apparently helped him win the votes of many conservatives.

However, now that he’s been elected mayor, Berry says he will hold off changing the policy until the city’s legal staff can review whether it can legally be done.

That’s interesting, given the fact that the New Mexico Independent and other news outlets noted before the election that the city was forced to adopt the so-called sanctuary policy in 2007 as part of the settlement of a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The landmark suit alleged that the civil rights of three Del Norte High School students were violated when they were detained on campus until immigration officials could question them.

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Fear Of A Brown Planet?

brownplanet“Unfortunate” and “chilling?”

How about insulting and xenophobic?

Local advocates may have held back a bit last week when they condemned Republican Albuquerque mayoral candidate Richard “R.J.” Berry and the New Mexico Republican Party for blaming a brutal murder on the city’s existing immigration policies.

Albuquerque police have charged suspected members of a hardcore El Salvadoran crime gang with murdering cook Stephanie Anderson on June 20 as they robbed a crowded Denny’s Restaurant on the city’s West Side.

In the aftermath of the crime, Berry and state Republican Party executive director Ryan Cangliosi blamed the city’s police policies regarding immigrants for the murder and called Albuquerque a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Berry and Cangliosi said they were lamenting the fact that since 2007, city policy bars police from questioning a person about his or her immigration status unless the person is already under arrest or the officer feels their immigration status may be relevant to a criminal investigation.

The city adopted the policy in connection with a 2005 civil rights lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund involving three Del Norte students who were detained at their school until immigration officials could question them.

In the days since the murder, Albuquerque police revealed that they had arrested one of the suspects, Pablo Ortiz, for DUI in 2008. He served time in jail and was then voluntarily deported to El Salvador. Police don’t know how Ortiz got back into the country and came to commit the murder. But city policies on immigration don’t appear to have anything to do with it.

Late last week, a coalition of advocacy groups expressed outrage that Berry and the Republican Party would attempt to use the murder as a pawn in their political chess game.

“Campaigns like this (against immigrants) have had a chilling impact on Hispanic/Latino communities across the country, resulting in increased discrimination, hate crimes, and racial profiling,” Adrian Pedroza, executive director of the Albuquerque Partnership, a Latino-led advocacy-based coalition, told the New Mexico Independent.

“At a time when we should be coming together to mourn the tragic death of a community member, it is unfortunate that there are those who would use this issue to further a political agenda,” Barbara Dua, executive director of the statewide New Mexico Conference of Churches, told NMI. “This is a time for us to unite, not be divided by fear mongering.”

Advocates say what Berry and the Republicans are claiming is unfortunate and chilling.

But let’s also call it what else it is – a xenophobic attempt to insult people’s common sense by confusing the facts and blurring the line between immigrants and the kind of ganged-up criminals who shoot a woman in cold blood.

Using the specter of crime and public safety to elicit knee-jerk reactions during political season is an old trick.

Did any of you fall for it?

Advocates With a Pen

RFK_CesarThere’s been so much talk about the decline of the traditional media and concern about what kind of in-depth journalism might rise up to up to take its place.

But I’m more encouraged now about the future of journalism since I’ve seen the ambitious and righteous project called  “Divided Families,” a series of stories by journalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

The series, a melange of photos and text which movingly examined the lives of  families divided by the U.S. – Mexico border, won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the college print journalism category. It traces the stories of families who are separated as a result of both legal and illegal immigration and explores the social consequences of public immigration policy.  (To view the full series, go to the above link and click on the PDF file on the right side of the page. )

The Divided Families project was the work of 17 students in the Cronkite School’s In-Depth Reporting class. Students took more than 30 trips to the border, deep into Mexico and to various parts of Arizona to report, record and photograph their stories.

You can read about the other winners, which included The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer and National Public Radio, here.

The prizes will be awarded today in a ceremony at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The RFK Journalism Awards program honors outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert F. Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world. Winning pieces examine the causes, conditions and remedies of injustice and analyze relevant public policies and attitudes and private endeavors.

A Transforming Force — Enlace Communtario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Successful social programs don’t always take a whole lot of money.

Sometimes they just take a bit of thought and a whole lot of heart.

Consider the promotora program at Enlace Comunitario, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that provides services and counseling to those in the city’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community who are victims of domestic violence.

The promotora (literally, promoter) concept has its roots in the culture of Central and South America, where trusted members of communities are trained to work as health paraprofessionals among their own people, identifying health programs and guiding people toward healthier lifestyles.

Increasingly, governments and agencies in the United States are using the promotora model of health education as a lower-cost, culturally-sensitive way to improve health and overall quality of life in migrant communities all across the country.

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