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Immigration debate gets hotter in New Mexico

From left, Karina Garcia, 8, and Leonardo Martinez, 9, both of Clovis, hold a banner with other children during an immigrant rights rally at the Roundhouse on Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From left, Karina Garcia, 8, and Leonardo Martinez, 9, both of Clovis, hold a banner with other children during an immigrant rights rally at the Roundhouse on Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

 

SANTA FE – A former Santa Fe mayor called the nation’s only Latina governor a racist in comments to a crowd advocating for immigrant families Monday at the state Capitol rotunda.

Former Mayor David Coss started his remarks during the Immigrant Day of Action rally by saying that the morning after November’s presidential election, he was glad to wake up in New Mexico – a state “that rejected the racism of Donald Trump, that rejected the racism of Susana Martinez,” a comment that drew some of the loudest cheers at the more than hourlong rally.

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Coss added that people have told him not to call people racist because it makes them angry. “Well, you know what? When you’re a racist and you try to implement racist policies in my community, it makes me angry.”

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez later termed the former mayor’s comments as “sad and ignorant.”

Coss, who served as Santa Fe’s mayor from 2006 to 2014, was referring to the governor’s efforts over the years to stop the state from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“We just finished six years where New Mexico fell further and further and further behind economically. And what do we do? We chase immigrant families around, trying to take their driver’s licenses away because we said they were dangerous. That was racist, and that was wrong,” Coss said to another round of applause from the gathering of about 200 people.

Martinez, twice elected governor in a state where Hispanics make up about half the population, signed a compromise bill last year that allows undocumented immigrants to acquire limited driving authorization cards, but not federally recognized Real ID drivers licenses.

Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss speaks at an immigration rally Monday at the Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss speaks at an immigration rally Monday at the Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Asked to respond to Coss’ comments, Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for the governor, said, “Mr. Coss’ inflammatory remarks about the nation’s first Hispanic woman governor are sad and ignorant, particularly since the overwhelming majority of Hispanics in New Mexico supported her initiative to end the dangerous practice of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

A Journal poll taken a year before she signed the compromise measure showed that 70 percent of registered voters polled opposed a law that allows drivers’ licenses to be issued to undocumented immigrants.

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The Immigrant Day of Action rally – an annual event put on by Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights – happened to fall on a day when attorneys were due to file arguments in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for and against the constitutionality of Trump’s recent executive order to temporarily restrict travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas was one of more than a dozen attorneys general from across the country who filed briefs opposing the restrictions.

None of the other speakers at Monday’s rally mentioned the governor, and Coss later said that he doesn’t “know what’s in her heart” but that she has supported racist policies.

Several other speakers, including Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who was in town to address the Legislature, spoke against Trump’s immigration policy and divisive rhetoric.

“Anti-immigration rhetoric is wrong, and we’re not going to tolerate it,” Udall said.

Udall also condemned what he called Trump’s “illegal and unconstitutional Muslim ban.”

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