According to state documents obtained by The Associated Press, only 4,577 licenses were issued to foreign nationals in 2014. That’s a 70 percent drop from 2010 – the year before Gov. Susana Martinez became governor and when New Mexico issued more than 15,000 such licenses, the most in a year.
Records also show the number of licenses issued has been steadily declining since 2010 and fell close to 5 percent from 2013.
Officials do not know how many licenses went to immigrants illegally living in the U.S. because applicants aren’t required to submit information about their immigration status.
There’s no clear explanation for the drop, and there has been no change to state policy despite efforts by Martinez to repeal the law.
However, since it passed in 2003, some states have enacted similar driver’s licenses laws.
In January, for example, California began issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally. So far, more than 350,000 people have been licensed under the program with 1 million more expected in the next three years.
New Mexico has issued around 100,000 licenses to foreign nationals, record show.
And in 2012, President Barack Obama announced an executive action that created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives the young people brought into the United States illegally as children a Social Security number, a two-year work permit and protection from deportation. It opened the door for these young immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in states.
Although a few states initially announced that they would deny licenses to those youths, only Arizona and Nebraska ultimately adopted policies to exclude them.
Nebraska ended the nation’s last ban on driving privileges for young people brought into the U.S. illegally as children, after the Legislature voted last month to override a veto from the state’s new Republican governor.
Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan said another drop in newly issued driver’s licenses to immigrants was encouraging news. But he said Martinez remains committed in repealing the state law, which she believes has turned New Mexico into a magnet for criminal activity.
“This is a serious public safety issue,” Lonergan said. “And the governor believes we must end this dangerous law once and for all.”