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Bishops Back Extending Driver’s License Law for Immigrants

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s three Roman Catholic bishops have issued a statement calling for the extension of driver’s license privileges to foreign-born New Mexico residents, regardless of immigration status and in spite a move by Gov. Susana Martinez to repeal the 2003 law that allows such licenses.

The statement, titled “Licenses for All Drivers: A Matter of Mercy, Fairness and Safety,” is signed by Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez and Gallup Bishop James S. Wall.

“We support extending driver license privileges only to residents of the state,” the bishops wrote.

“We are in favor of allowing individuals without Social Security numbers to obtain licenses provided that they present other acceptable forms of identification, such as a valid passport, consular identification card, or other recognized government-issued documents, currently required by present law,” the bishops said.

“The present law when enforced addresses the issue of fraudulent documents,” the statement said. “We have in the past called for a compromise that can strengthen the law and yet issue drivers licenses.”


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Gov. Susana Martinez, who on Monday called for a special session of the Legislature to begin Sept. 6, has said she plans to include on the special session agenda a proposed repeal of the 2003 law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain New Mexico’s drivers’ licenses, the Albuquerque Journal reported this morning.

The bishops in their statement called on the Legislature and the governor to “work diligently” on a compromise that would extend the law, not repeal it, as being in the “interest of all New Mexicans.

Their rationale for doing so includes the following points:

• Licenses for all drivers make our highways safer, since unlicensed drivers have not been tested and, therefore, present a potential danger to everyone using our roads. In addition, unlicensed drivers tend to raise everyone’s insurance rates since the former cannot obtain auto insurance.
• Licensed drivers make our communities safer because they are more easily identified and tracked. If a law enforcement officer stops an unlicensed driver, that individual might easily give a false name. Such names would not be found in the state’s database, thus undermining law enforcement’s efforts to determine whether there are outstanding warrants or other matters related to the person in question.
• Repeal of the current driver license law would detract from limited state resources at a time of economic crisis. We want our law enforcement and court resources focused on the apprehension of dangerous criminals, rather than on the detention of normally hard-working immigrants.
• And, finally, without legal access to driver licenses, immigrant workers would not be able to travel to their places of employment, undermining the economic stability of their families as well as the many New Mexico businesses, farms, and ranches that depend on their labor.