Renewed efforts to repeal the New Mexico law that allows driver’s licenses to be issued to illegal immigrants were stalled by a House committee late Tuesday.
The House Labor and Human Resources Committee voted 5-4 to table the driver’s license repeal outlined in House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, and House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. William Rehm, R-Albuquerque. The party-line vote came after the committee debated the bills for nearly four hours.
The delay creates a new hurdle for HB 132, the repeal legislation backed by Gov. Susana Martinez, to move forward in the Legislature. No version of the driver’s license repeal has been introduced in the Senate.
The vote to take no action on HB 132 came after House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said more work was necessary to craft legislation that balances public safety concerns with the needs of the state’s immigrants. The committee later voted to table HB 161 as well.
HB 132 would end the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants but allow those who already have the licenses to keep them until they expire. HB 161 would halt the issuance of new licenses and void licenses already issued to illegal immigrants.
“I would support legislation that would answer the issue about public safety, if there’s bad guys getting driver’s licenses. … I think even the bill’s sponsor admitted there’s good families (affected), a very human side to this,” Martinez said. “I think we’re mature enough to sit down at the table and try to figure that out, although we have to see if there’s a will to do that, first.”
Bills similar to HB 132 were passed by the state House in each of the past two legislative sessions but died without action in the Senate.
Pacheco insisted Tuesday that his bill should go to a vote by the full House rather than be held or modified by the committee.
“The bill had bipartisan support the last time it came before the House,” said Pacheco, a freshmen representative. “The public deserves – no, they demand – an up or down vote on this. … I feel we owe them,” Pacheco said, referring to a public opinion poll. Journal Polls in 2010 and 2012 showed a majority of New Mexicans supported repeal of the law.
After the committee action, Pacheco said he was disappointed by the vote to table the bill.
“I think my constituents are going to be disappointed,” Pacheco said. “There’s going to be a lot of constituents of different representatives who are disappointed.”
A hearing addressing the legislation drew dozens of participants and lasted for nearly four hours.
Opponents of the bill reiterated concerns that the legislation would force thousands of immigrants in New Mexico to drive illegally to get to work, take children to school or seek medical care.
Supporters emphasized public safety concerns, citing instances of nonresidents traveling to New Mexico with fraudulent documents to receive a state license and using it to indicate legal immigration status in other states. Backers also expressed concern that failure to stop issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants could prevent New Mexico from complying with the federal Real ID Act and force residents to use a passport when boarding an airplane or entering into federal buildings.
Enrique Knell, the governor’s spokesman, echoed Pacheco about the bill being headed off before the full chamber vote.
“It’s unfortunate that this legislation was voted down by a small number of voters,” Knell said. “New Mexicans want us to repeal the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and this bill deserves and up or down vote on the House floor.”
Pushing to delay action on the driver’s license repeal on Tuesday, Speaker Martinez said at least 16 states are developing special driving privileges for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children after President Barack Obama’s executive order in 2012 to defer immigration-enforcement action on those individuals.
New Mexico previously was one of only three state’s in the U.S. that allowed illegal immigrants to drive legally.
“It seems to me to be some momentum in the United States to become more inclusive with regard to the immigrant community, and with regard to the issuance of licenses,” the House speaker said.
In the Senate, key supporters of the governor’s effort to repeal the driver’s license law-Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming – have said they would draft new legislation outlining an illegal immigrant driving permit option if a full repeal effort appeared to stagger.
The governor said last week said she would consider that option if the repeal bill fails.