SANTA FE – A bipartisan bill to issue a new, short-term driver’s license to some illegal immigrants was introduced in the state Senate on Wednesday with Gov. Susana Martinez’s blessing, but one immigrants’ rights group says the proposal is a step backward.
Senate Bill 521 would allow the state Motor Vehicle Division to create a new series of New Mexico driver’s licenses. The bill would allow citizens and legal immigrants to get a new license that complies with the federal Real ID Act when their current license expires.
The bill would also create a second, unique driver’s license for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and have been granted deferred immigration enforcement action status by the federal government. That license would not be good for identification purposes outside of New Mexico, according to the bill.
Under the proposal, illegal immigrants who have not been granted a deferred action status would lose all driving privileges in New Mexico.
The bill’s primary sponsors, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, have previously supported Gov. Susana Martinez’s efforts to repeal the 2003 state law that allows driver’s licenses to be issued to illegal immigrants. The bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday represents what Ingle and Smith called a compromise on the proposed repeal.
“We’ve got to get it behind us,” Smith said. “It seems to me that we have pretty good support on that (proposal). We have not had anybody saying, ‘I object’ on that, at all.”
Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said the proposal introduced Wednesday takes a step backward by treating immigrants with a federally deferred action status – widely considered equivalent to a legal immigration status – as second-class drivers while repealing driving privileges for thousands of other immigrants in New Mexico.
“It discriminates against people who are lawfully present … and then it just leaves everybody else out,” Diaz said. “In other words, this isn’t a compromise.”
President Barack Obama signed an executive order in July to make illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children eligible to apply for new immigration status.
Immigrants granted deferred action status are eligible for a Real ID Act driver’s license, according to the federal statutes. Since Obama’s executive order, more than a dozen states that previously prohibited illegal immigrants from legally driving have initiated efforts to issue licenses to immigrants with deferred action status.
A Real ID Act license or a passport are the only forms of identification that would be accepted to board airplanes or enter federal buildings once the federal ID security law is put into effect. The law was scheduled to take effect in January, but enforcement was delayed by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Governor’s Office on Wednesday called the proposal a compromise that she would support.
“This is a very reasonable compromise that repeals the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, while providing driving permits to … those placed on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status by the federal government,” said Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, was the only co-sponsor of SB 521 who has opposed the effort to repeal driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. Papen said she agreed to support the new bill as “a work in progress” on the issue, but didn’t closely review details of the legislation. Papen said she was concerned the bill would prohibit some immigrants from legally driving.
“I do have some concern, because people have jobs,” Papen said. “They have jobs and they need to be able to get to work. I want them to be able to know what the laws of the roads are.”