By James Monteleone
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE — The latest effort in the Legislature to end the practice of issuing New Mexico driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally stalled Saturday in a House committee on a tied vote.
House Bill 127, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, and backed by Gov. Susana Martinez, would eliminate the driver’s licenses issued to most of those immigrants, who have been eligible to get them under a 2003 New Mexico law.
The House Bill 127 change, however, would make an exception for immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children and granted a deferred immigration action status, Pacheco said. For those individuals, the state would issue a new, second-tier license that would be marked as “not for federal identification” and would have to be renewed annually.
Following more than three hours of debate in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee on Saturday, the proposal hung up on a party-line 4-4 tie that prevented the bill from advancing. Four Democrats voted to table the bill and four Republicans opposed the tabling.
Pacheco said he wasn’t sure whether supporters of his proposed driver’s license repeal would try to bring the bill before the full House, where Republican leaders think it has enough votes to pass.
Republicans have argued the illegal immigrant licenses prevent New Mexico from complying with the federal REAL ID Act, which in 2005 established national requirements for state-issued licenses to be used to enter federal buildings or board commercial airplanes.
Republicans say that issuing the licenses also has made New Mexico a hotbed for document fraud and trafficking of immigrants attempting to get identification that can be used in other states.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said the Legislature should focus on creating a new and enhanced REAL ID-compliant identification card for those who qualify under the federal law rather than attempting to stop thousands of immigrants in New Mexico from legally driving.
Legislation that would have created an enhanced New Mexico REAL ID-compliant identification card was introduced last year by Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, but never advanced.
Martinez said he would endorse a similar effort this session.
“I think we can do a REAL ID-compliant bill and get it through the Legislature in the next two weeks, but it can’t be a trojan horse to have the (driver’s license) debate again,” Martinez said
By James Monteleone