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Editorial: Will lawmakers wake up, smell license scams?

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Another day, another plea deal in a New Mexico driver’s license scam. Make that five pleas deals. With testimony against the alleged ringleaders ensured. If they are ever located, that is.

Add the five agreements reached with District Attorney Matthew Chandler of Clovis to the growing stack of criminal cases that have originated with the state’s policy of handing out driver’s licenses to all comers regardless of immigration status. And ask the New Mexico Legislature when enough will be enough.

Last session lawmakers rejected a fair, bipartisan compromise that would have stopped offering government identification to illegal immigrants while extending the privilege of driving – and only driving – to immigrants with deferred immigration enforcement action status. It would have shut down predatory enterprises like the one allegedly run by Luis Raul Collazo-Medrano and Olivia Campos – an operation Chandler describes as a $30,000-a-month “one-stop shop for foreign nationals wanting to obtain an identity….”

The pair is accused of charging up to $4,000 for what amounts to an $18 license. According to plea agreements, services included pickup at Amarillo’s airport, car service to Clovis or Portales, and fraudulent paperwork.

New Mexico has handed out drivers licenses regardless of immigration status since 2003. It is a major reason the state is not in compliance with the looming federal Real ID Act. It is one of the reasons New Mexico law enforcement and prosecutors have been busy with defendants from Mexico, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Poland and Russia.

A federal judge presiding over one case seemed truly puzzled when he asked why the state would do this.

It would be a good question for the 2014 Legislature.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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