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January 30, 13

NEWS / New Mexico Republicans try to outlaw driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants

Two bills that would have prevented illegal immigrants from receiving drivers licenses were shot down by five Democrats in the Labor and Human Resources Committee of the New Mexico House of Representatives. Republicans in favor of repealing the illegal immigrant license provision argued that the measure was making New Mexico a magnet for illegal immigrants, and that this could eventually render the drivers licenses of legal New Mexico residents worthless as pieces of identification.

Republican Representatives Paul Pacheco and Bill Rehm introduced separate pieces of legislation aimed at repealing the 2003 law that allows illegal immigrants residing in New Mexico to obtain drivers licenses. While Pachecos bill would have simply repealed the law, Rehms would have also revoked the licenses of foreign nationals, albeit with appropriate compensation for the remaining period of the licenses validity, local newspaper Las Cruces Sun-News reports.

The two legislators argued that the law caused illegal immigrants to stream into New Mexico to obtain drivers licenses and later move to other states. This was confirmed by expert witness Demesia Padilla, secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department. Rehm noted that this may eventually devalue drivers licenses held by legal New Mexico residents and that New Mexicans may end up having to use their passport for identification. Republican Representative Candy Spence Ezzell echoed his sentiments and stressed that illegal immigrants could threaten the way of life her family members had fought for in wars.

Marcelo Diaz, executive director of the immigrant group Somos Un Pueblo Unido (Spanish for We are a united people) refuted those statements, arguing that the federal REAL ID Act included states that issued drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, and that the fears that New Mexican drivers licenses would become invalid as forms of identification were unfounded.

Ken Martinez, the Democratic Speaker of the House, noted the positive sides of the ten-year old legislation, and pointed to the fact that more and more states were following New Mexicos example and allowing illegal immigrants to obtain a drivers license.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a similar piece of legislation Monday, noting that it would make roads safer, create better access to job opportunities and bolster economic growth.

The proposals of Paul Pacheco and Bill Rehm were eventually tabled by Democrats in a 5-4 vote in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee, although Republicans argued that the issue should have been decided by the full 70-member House of Representatives.

New Mexico issued 94,000 drivers licenses to foreign nationals since the enactment of the legislation in question in 2003. Of those with drivers licenses, only 16,000 reportedly filed tax returns, an indicator of the fact that most license holders left the state once they got them.

Washington and now Illinois have followed in the footsteps of New Mexico, while Utah issues driving privilege cards to undocumented immigrants who live in the state for more than six months.

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