Ten thousand randomly selected foreign nationals with New Mexico driver’s licenses are being told to make appointments in Albuquerque to verify their residency, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office said Tuesday.
Drivers who don’t make the appointments or fail to provide proof of residency would face cancellation of their licenses, the Governor’s Office said.
Martinez said the residency certification program will provide data about the extent to which licenses have been issued to people who don’t live in New Mexico.
The Republican governor opposes the 2003 New Mexico law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, saying it has made New Mexico a magnet for fraudulent activity.
But Martinez has not been able to get a repeal of the law through the Legislature, and she said a month ago that she would explore other ways to make the driver’s license system more secure.
“There is a real and legitimate concern, given the interest that is coming from out of state and the numerous license rings that have recently been uncovered, that New Mexico driver’s licenses are going to people who do not remain or even intend to remain residents of our state,” Martinez said Tuesday in a news release.
Immigrants’ rights groups were alarmed by the governor’s announcement, and a Democratic state senator said the administration initiative “looks more like a witch hunt than good public policy.”
Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe questioned the governor’s authority to unilaterally add requirements for existing license-holders.
“It makes me wonder who’s next,” Wirth said. “Is she going to add requirements for teen drivers, for elderly drivers? These seem like legislative issues that should be well-thought through.”
The administration said the letters were to go out beginning immediately to 10,000 of the 85,000 foreign nationals without Social Security numbers who have obtained New Mexico driver’s licenses since 2003.
If the data from the review of 10,000 drivers indicate a widespread problem of licenses issued to nonresidents, the Motor Vehicle Division will proceed to verify the residency of the rest of the foreign national drivers, Martinez’s office said.
Spokesman Scott Darnell said a special Albuquerque office, staffed by 18 temporary employees and three MVD managers, has been set up to handle the in-person appointments, to avoid disrupting other MVD offices.
The appointments could be completed by mid-September; there is no cost projection yet, Darnell said.
The 2003 law allows New Mexico residents who are in the country illegally to get licenses; it is not known how many of the 85,000 foreign nationals with licenses are undocumented immigrants.
Supporters of the law said it would encourage more drivers to be insured and make communities safer.
A spokeswoman for an Albuquerque immigrants’ rights group said that the driver’s license program has been a success overall, and that Martinez is “fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment in our communities.”
“At a time when the administration needs to be a champion for economic development, jobs, and education – issues which truly impact New Mexico families – Gov. Martinez is choosing to divert voters’ attention, and use limited resources to scapegoat immigrants,” said Rachel LaZar of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal