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Editorial: Gov. Doing Lawmakers’ License Work for Them

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New Mexico, Land of 10,000 Potentially Fraudulent Driver’s Licenses. Doesn’t really have the same ring as, say, Land of 10,000 Lakes, does it?

Gov. Susana Martinez is trying to eliminate/reduce that negative tourism driver — and that’s a heck of a lot more than the New Mexico Legislature has done. Perhaps that’s why when Martinez’s office announced this week it would wade in and have a special Motor Vehicle Division office do random residency checks on 10,000 of the estimated 85,000 foreign nationals who have New Mexico driver’s licenses, a Democratic senator’s knee-jerk reaction was to question Martinez’s authority and predict unfair targeting of different vulnerable driving populations.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, calls the move “a witch hunt” and says it “makes me wonder who’s next. Is she going to add requirements for teen drivers, for elderly drivers? These seem like legislative issues that should be well thought through.”

They are. Unfortunately, voters have a Legislature that to date has refused to do just that. Instead, lawmakers have sat idly by as ads are placed in foreign-language newspapers from Chicago to Mexico offering “Drivers license in the State of New Mexico. Social Security not necessary. 100% guarantee.” As myriad human smuggling rings are busted, and as arrests stack up in multiple criminal cases.

The Legislature had the chance earlier this year to take care of the state’s well-meant and poorly thought-out 2003 policy of providing official government identification to individuals in the country illegally. It had the chance to eliminate the opportunity for terrorists to get state-of-the-art ID that entitles them to a boarding pass. It had the chance to put out of business unscrupulous predators who gouge illegal immigrants thousands of dollars for a license they could get on their own for $18. Yet a House committee vote revealed that ensuring everyone on the road has driver education and insurance was a disingenuous defense of the policy, because the same could have been accomplished with a Republican representative’s well-thought-through change of reserving full licenses for legal residents and issuing annual driving permits to foreign nationals.

The weakest link in the state’s licensing procedures is the proof of residency requirement, and asking a random sample of drivers to re-verify their residency in order to continue to have the privilege of driving may be, as Wirth claims, above Martinez’s authority.

But earlier this year lawmakers denied there is even a problem with the state’s licensing policy and rejected the call to fix it, even though a recent poll found 72 percent of New Mexicans surveyed oppose giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Martinez is simply wading in to those 10,000 potentially fraudulent licenses and doing the job lawmakers shirked.

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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