New Mexico renewing fight over immigrant licenses (UPDATED)

Posted at: 01/29/2013 1:30 PM
Updated at: 01/29/2013 7:04 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4


The governor's crusade to repeal driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants has stalled on the legislative highway, tabled in the House Labor Committee on a party line vote.

It was five Democrats prevailing over four republicans, and it probably means the bill is dead in this legislative session. It's the fourth time Gov. Susana Martinez has asked lawmakers to repeal the state law allowing the licenses. It was a major issue in her 2010 campaign.

"We know that the public are asking where's the compromise?" said Allen Sanchez of the New Mexico Catholic Bishops Conference, a powerful religious group opposing the repeal. "Let's move on. Even the governor is starting to open the door up to compromise. I feel like we're here again because the governor made a promise she can't keep. Table the bill, let's go home, and let's work to a compromise."

But Republican supporters of the governor's bill don't see it that way.

"When I went door-to-door the number one issue in my district was ending those driver’s licenses," said Rep. Bill Rehm, a Northeast Heights Republican. "When you look at the statewide survey, 73 percent of New Mexicans all want the process ended."

"The country is swinging the other way," said Rep. Moe Maestas, a Democrat representing a district on Albuquerque's West Side. "Since the last session Illinois has given driver’s licenses to undocumented workers - California - Connecticut is considering it."

"It's dangerous," said bill sponsor Paul Pacheco, a Republican freshman from Albuquerque. "It's a public safety issue. If we don't do something we are just going to continue to see the same illegal activities come into the state and go throughout the country."

Police have broken up numerous racketeering rings that peddle New Mexico licenses to illegal immigrants who don't even live in the state, some of them selling an $18 dollar license for 2 or 3 thousand dollars.

 It is possible for supporters to try to force the bill out of committee for a full vote in the House of Representatives, but such a maneuver is difficult and rarely seen in the New Mexico legislature.  In fact it succeeded in the House in 2011, and the bill actually passed, but died in the state Senate.