Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico voters continue their long-standing opposition to a 2003 law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, a new Journal Poll found.
Seven in 10 registered voters surveyed last week said they opposed the law – results that mirror those of earlier Journal Polls.
Respondents were asked: “Do you support or oppose New Mexico’s state law that allows driver’s licenses to be issued to immigrants who are in the country illegally?”
Support is strongest among Democrats, Hispanics and younger voters, the poll showed. But even among those groups, a majority opposed issuing driver’s licenses to foreign nationals who are in the U.S. without authorization.
“This is a gut issue,” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
When New Mexicans weigh whether the state “should give an official document to immigrants who are not here legally, on its face, a lot of people have a gut feeling against that,” he said.
The law was opposed by 91 percent of Republicans, 56 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents. The poll was conducted Feb. 17-19.
Repealing the 12-year-old state law has been a priority for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez since she was elected in 2010.
Only 7 percent of Republicans said they support the law, compared with 37 percent of Democrats. Sixty-nine percent of decline-to-state voters, or independents, also oppose the law.
“Republicans nearly universally oppose the current law,” Sanderoff said. “It is of note that even a majority of Democrats oppose the law.”
Voters were evenly divided in north-central New Mexico, which includes the state’s Democratic strongholds of Santa Fe and Taos. There, 43 percent support the existing law and 46 percent oppose it.
But in other regions of the state, three-quarters of voters or more said they opposed issuing driver’s licenses to individuals who are in the country illegally.
Among Hispanic voters, 32 percent said they supported the law and 62 percent opposed it. Gender was not a factor in determining opinion.
Younger voters were more supportive of the law than older voters, but even in that category 34 percent of those ages 18 to 34 favored the law and 58 percent opposed it.
Among education levels, support for the law was highest among the most educated voters. Thirty-eight percent with post-graduate education degrees supported the law, with 59 percent of that group opposed.
The law was enacted during the administration of Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson. It was originally promoted as a way to curb New Mexico’s problem with uninsured drivers.
The law’s supporters say issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants not authorized to be in the country allows law enforcement officers to identify drivers and helps immigrants hold jobs and support their families.
Martinez contends the law poses a security risk by attracting out-of-state immigrants seeking a license by falsely claiming they are residents and encouraging fraud. Several cases have led to convictions of people who brought immigrants to New Mexico to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses.
On Feb. 12, the Republican-controlled House voted 39-29 for a bill that would end the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. All 37 Republicans and two Democrats voted in favor.
The measure had not been assigned to committee in the Senate as of Friday. Also pending in the Senate is a separate proposal for a two-tiered system that would provide limited licenses to those in the country illegally.
Sanderoff said earlier Journal Polls that showed slightly higher opposition to the law sampled likely voters, rather than last week’s survey of registered voters.
The Journal Poll sample is based on a scientific, statewide survey of 402 registered voters. The margin of error for the full sample of voters is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
All interviews were conducted by live professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Of those reached, 52 percent spoke on cellphones and 48 percent on landlines.