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Gov., Bishops Still Split Over Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

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SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez joined Archbishop Michael Sheehan and other Catholic bishops for breakfast Wednesday and met privately in the state Capitol over the weekend with New Mexico’s top-ranking Roman Catholic leader.

But while the governor and Sheehan were able to find common ground regarding an abortion bill, they remain divided on the high-profile driver’s license issue.

Sheehan and other Catholic bishops have staunchly defended the 2003 state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, while Martinez has waged a high-profile effort to repeal the law.

At the Wednesday morning Catholic prayer breakfast attended by Martinez and more than 20 legislators, the bishops said they would support a compromise that toughened the existing law – in part by requiring fingerprinting before a license could be issued. They also repeated their claims that the law is humane and permits low-income immigrants to legally drive to and from their work sites.

“This allows them to get a leg up in society and allows them to better themselves as well,” said Bishop James Wall of Gallup.

Martinez did not directly address the driver’s license issue in her remarks to the bishops and others in attendance.

However, she told reporters after the event that she is still convinced the law should be taken off the books. She also cited increased rates of fraud and human trafficking that she claims stem from the demand for New Mexico driver’s licenses.

“We have compromised,” Martinez said, referring to her administration’s agreement not to pursue revocation of already-issued licenses and to allow foreign nationals in the country legally to keep full driving privileges.

Martinez attended Catholic school while growing up in El Paso. A spokesman for the governor said Wednesday that she is Catholic, but did not say whether she is an active member of the church.

The first-term Republican governor said she described her concerns regarding the driver’s license law to Sheehan during their Saturday meeting, three days before the start of a 30-day legislative session in which the driver’s license issue is expected to generate heated debate.

The first-term Republican governor had previously canceled several meetings with Sheehan due to scheduling conflicts.

While disagreeing on the subject of driver’s licenses, Martinez signaled support Wednesday for another piece of the Catholic church’s agenda: publicly endorsing legislation that would require the parents of a minor to be notified before an abortion is performed.

Martinez said not requiring such parental notification is “wrong.”

“A parent should be part of that major decision,” she said.

During the current session, Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, has introduced a measure, House Bill 51, that would require parents or legal guardians be notified – with a few limited exceptions – at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed.

Opponents of the proposal have argued in past years such a law could lead to illegal, and potentially dangerous, abortions.

Martinez’s backing of the parental notification legislation came on the same day that anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the Roundhouse.

Although a number of other religious groups and immigrants’ rights advocates have also actively backed the driver’s license law, the Roman Catholic Church is arguably the law’s most high-profile supporter.

During remarks delivered Wednesday morning, Sheehan addressed the debate over whether the Catholic Church should involve itself in public policy matters.

“Priests do not make laws; we know that,” Sheehan said. “Legislators make laws. But when laws have a moral or ethical dimension, we offer our teachings.”

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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