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UPDATED: NY Times’ Take on N.M.’s Driver’s License Flap

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A day before a national Latino civil rights group and New Mexico attorneys filed suit against the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez over the governor’s seeking to verify the residency of 10,000 foreign nationals with New Mexico driver’s licenses, The New York Times weighed in on the looming showdown between Martinez and her critics.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of four Democratic state lawmakers claims that the Martinez administration lacks the authority to order the residency review and is violating the state Constitution by ordering the 10,000 license holders to travel to Albuquerque or Las Cruces to verify their status, according to this morning’s Albuquerque Journal.

“No issue is more heated in New Mexico these days than that of driver’s licenses,” The New York Times reported Tuesday. “There are street protests and angry debates over the airwaves. Lawyers will soon be clashing over the question in court.”

In the state law enacted in 2003 “state officials had sought to reduce the problem of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road and increase cooperation between immigrants and law enforcement personnel,” The Times wrote, adding, however, that New Mexico continues to have one of the largest percentages of uninsured motorists in the nation.

Martinez, the state’s new Republican governor who campaigned on the license issue, tried but failed in her initial months in office to push an end to the practice of licensing illegal immigrants through the Democratically controlled Legislature and will try again in next month’s special session, The Times said.

“But those gaming the action say it still appears the state Senate will be the graveyard for the repeal as it was in the regular session earlier this year,” predicted Joe Monahan, whose New Mexico Politics blog linked to The Times story this morning.

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6:59am 8/24/11 — Court Asked To Stop Immigration License Checks in N.M.

By Barry Massey/The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Four state legislators and a Silver City woman asked a judge Wednesday to stop Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration from trying to verify whether immigrants who received a driver’s license in New Mexico still live in the state.

An Albuquerque law firm and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit in state District Court in Santa Fe on behalf of the Democratic lawmakers and the Hispanic woman.

The suit seeks to block a state agency from checking a random sample of 10,000 license holders who are foreign nationals to determine their residency.

New Mexico is one of only three states — the others are Washington and Utah — where an illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license because no proof of citizenship is required. However, Utah’s permits cannot be used as government ID cards.

Martinez wants the Legislature to end New Mexico’s policy of granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. She and other critics contend it jeopardizes public safety and attracts illegal immigrants who fraudulently claim to live in the state only to get ID cards that make it easier to stay in the country.

The Republican governor in July announced the residency verification plan — the administration’s latest effort to focus attention on the state’s politically charged license policy.

Under the plan, New Mexico sent notices to people that they must schedule an in-person appointment and bring documents, such as a utility bill or lease agreement, to prove they live in the state. The administration plans to cancel licenses of people who no longer are New Mexico residents.

The lawsuit contends the governor’s license certification program is illegal because it singles out foreign nationals for unfair treatment, violating equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit said the administration also lacks the power to order the checks because the program wasn’t authorized by the Legislature and it effectively requires some people to reapply for a driver’s license.

“The program is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets certain Latinos in New Mexico and places a higher burden on them beyond what the law requires of other residents,” said Martha Gomez, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the suit attempts to stop an effort by the state to confront identity theft and fraud.

“This out-of-state group may believe that New Mexicans do not have a right to know who is residing within their borders, and as such, they may not have a problem trying to protect the illegal immigrants who have come to New Mexico from throughout the country to get our driver’s license and leave,” Darnell said in a statement. “But New Mexicans have a decidedly different point of view, and so does Gov. Martinez.”

Martinez, who took office in January, vowed during her gubernatorial campaign to end the state’s licensing policy enacted during former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration.

The governor’s license repeal proposal failed earlier this year in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Opponents said the move to end immigrant licenses was politically motivated and targeted Mexican immigrants. Martinez plans to ask the Legislature to revisit the issue during a special session that starts next month.

Under a 2003 law, more than 80,000 driver’s licenses have gone to foreign nationals. The state says it doesn’t know how many of those went to illegal immigrants because it doesn’t ask the immigration status of license applicants.

Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque helped bring the lawsuit and was a main sponsor of the 2003 license legislation. He said the law provides an opportunity for “our immigrant population to come out of the shadows and become a participatory member of our society.”

Garcia and other supporters say the licensing law has improved public safety by having immigrants get insurance for their vehicles, and has lessened immigrant fears about reporting crimes and cooperating with police.

Also bringing the lawsuit are Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan; Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque; and Morales’ sister-in-law Marisela Morales, a legal permanent U.S. resident who has lived in the country for 16 years.

Immigrant applicants for a New Mexico driver’s license don’t need a Social Security number as part of their identification. Instead, they can submit a taxpayer identification number issued by the federal government along with other identification, such as a Mexican Consulate-issued ID card known as a matricula consular.

Slightly more than 1,000 foreign national license holders have had their licenses recertified so far, according to the Governor’s Office. About 2,500 appointments have been scheduled. Of the 10,000 letters sent out, about 31 percent have been returned as undeliverable for some reason, including that there is no forwarding address for an individual.

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Aug. 24, 2011 6:03 p.m.

SANTA FE — Four state legislators and a Silver City woman asked a judge Wednesday to stop Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration from trying to verify whether immigrants who received a driver’s license are still New Mexico residents.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and an Albuquerque law firm brought the lawsuit on behalf of the Democratic lawmakers and the Hispanic woman.

The lawsuit in state District Court in Santa Fe seeks to block the Taxation and Revenue Department and its Motor Vehicle Division from checking a random sample of 10,000 license holders who are foreign nationals to determine their residency.

Three states — New Mexico, Washington and Utah — allow illegal immigrants to get licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship. However, Utah issues driving permits that cannot be used as a government identification card.

New Mexico has sent notices to people that they must schedule an in-person appointment and bring documents, such as a utility bill or lease agreement, to prove they are residents of the state. The administration plans to cancel licenses of individuals who are no longer New Mexico residents.

The suit contends the governor’s license certification program is illegal because it singles out foreign nationals for unfair treatment, violating equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit said the administration also lacks the power to order the checks because the program wasn’t authorized by the Legislature and it effectively requires some people to reapply for a driver’s license.

“The program is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets certain Latinos in New Mexico and places a higher burden on them beyond what the law requires of other residents,” said Martha Gomez, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The governor wants the Legislature to end the state’s policy of granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Martinez contends the license law jeopardizes public safety, and immigrants are fraudulently getting licenses by claiming to be New Mexico residents.

“This is a lawsuit by an out-of-state group that is trying to stop the state’s effort to confront identity theft and fraud that exists due to the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement.

“This out-of-state group may believe that New Mexicans do not have a right to know who is residing within their borders, and as such, they may not have a problem trying to protect the illegal immigrants who have come to New Mexico from throughout the country to get our driver’s license and leave,” Darnell said. “But New Mexicans have a decidedly different point of view, and so does Gov. Martinez.”

The governor announced the residency verification plan in July. It was the latest effort by the administration to focus attention on the politically charged immigrant license policy.

Martinez, who took office in January, vowed during her gubernatorial campaign to end the state’s licensing policy enacted during former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration.

The governor’s license repeal proposal failed earlier this year in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Opponents said the move to end immigrant licenses was politically motivated and targeted Mexican immigrants. Martinez plans to ask the Legislature to revisit the issue during a special session that starts next month.

Under a 2003 law, more than 80,000 driver’s licenses have gone to foreign nationals. The state says it doesn’t know how many of those went to illegal immigrants because it doesn’t ask the immigration status of license applicants.

Democratic Rep. Miguel Garcia of Albuquerque helped bring the lawsuit and was a main sponsor of the 2003 license legislation. He said the law provides an opportunity for “our immigrant population to come out of the shadows and become a participatory member of our society.”

Garcia and other supporters say the licensing law has improved public safety by having immigrants get insurance for their vehicles and has lessened immigrant fears of reporting crimes and cooperating with police.

Also bringing the lawsuit are Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan; Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque; and Silver City resident Marisela Morales, a legal permanent U.S. resident who has lived in the country for 16 years.

Immigrant applicants for a New Mexico driver’s license don’t need a Social Security number as part of their identification. Instead, they can submit a taxpayer identification number issued by the federal government along with other identification, such as a passport and an ID card issued by the Mexican Consulate, known as a matricula consular.

Slightly more than 1,000 foreign national license holders have had their licenses recertified so far, according to the Governor’s Office. About 2,500 appointments have been scheduled. Of the 10,000 letters sent out, about 31 percent have been returned as undeliverable for some reason, including that there is no forwarding address for an individual.

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Aug. 24, 2011 2:46 p.m.

SANTA FE — New Mexico state legislators are asking a judge to stop Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration from trying to verify whether immigrants who received a driver’s license are still residents of the state.

A group of lawmakers filed a lawsuit Wednesday in state District Court in Santa Fe, seeking to block the Taxation and Revenue Department from checking a random sample of 10,000 license holders who are foreign nationals to determine their residency.

The state sent notices to people that they must schedule an in-person appointment with the Motor Vehicle Division.

The governor wants the Legislature to end the state’s policy of granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Martinez contends the license law jeopardizes public safety, and immigrants are fraudulently getting licenses by claiming to be New Mexico residents.

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Aug. 24, 2011 — MALDEF To Sue State Over ‘Residency Certification’

ABQnews Staff

The national civil rights organization MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) will announce today it is filing suit to stop the implementation and execution of the state’s so-called “Residency Certification Program,” which is seeking to get 10,000 recipients of New Mexico driver’s licenses to verify their residency, MALDEF said in a news release.

MALDEF and the Albuquerque law firm Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. today at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe to announce its lawsuit on behalf of a group of state legislators and residents of New Mexico, the release said.

The suit will name Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla as defendant, claiming that the letters sent out this summer by the department’s Motor Vehicles Division, “singles out a specific class of individuals for an onerous and wasteful exercise of state resources,” according to MALDEF.

The program, which ordered 10,000 foreign nationals who received driver’s licenses under a New Mexico state law that allowed illegal immigrants to get licenses, ordered recipients to travel to Albuquerque or Las Cruces to verify their residency.

MALDEF said in the release that the letter-writing program, authorized by Gov. Susana Martinez, “was never authorized, ratified or even considered by the State Legislature, and lacks statutory authority.”

The legal action, formally a petition for mandamus, under which a state district court may order a public official or agency to refrain from taking what it claims is an illegal or unconstitutional action, is aimed at stopping the program “from unlawfully violating the rights of New Mexico residents and from doing an end-run around the will of the New Mexico Legislature,” MALDEF said.

Among the legislators expected to attend today’s news conference are Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, according to the release.

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