Senate Rejects Bill to End Immigrant Licenses

Barry Massey, Santa Fe New Mexican, March 9, 2011

In a political setback for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the Senate rejected a politically charged proposal Wednesday night to stop New Mexico from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

The Senate voted 24-17 against a proposal by Republican Sen. John Ryan of Albuquerque that would have ended the practice of granting licenses to foreign nationals without a Social Security number.

Two Democrats–John Arthur Smith of Deming and Tim Eichenberg of Albuquerque–broke party ranks and joined Republicans in backing the proposal.

The governor, who took office in January, vowed during her gubernatorial campaign to end the state’s licensing policy enacted during former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration.

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Democrats said the move to end immigrant licenses was politically motivated and targeted Mexican immigrants.

“This is basically a bill that is very biased against Mexican nationals,” said Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española. “Actually, I think the bill is a political key for our governor to run for something else or to run for election.”

Democrats said New Mexico’s licensing law has improved public safety by requiring immigrants to get insurance for their vehicles and placing information about immigrant drivers in a governmental database, which is available to authorities if they need to serve arrest warrants. The license policy also has lessened immigrant fears of reporting crimes and cooperating with police, supporters said.

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Immigrant applicants for a driver’s license don’t need a Social Security number as part of their identification. Instead, they can submit a taxpayer identification number issued by the federal government along with other identification, such as a passport and a Matricula Consular card issued by a Mexican consulate.

Three states–New Mexico, Washington and Utah–allow illegal immigrants to get licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship. {snip}

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