A bill that would have stopped New Mexico from granting driver’s licenses to most immigrants without proper documentation stalled Saturday on a tie vote by a House committee.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the legislation could not overcome the House Labor and Human Resources Committee’s 4-4 vote, which was along party lines. Committee members debated more than three hours.
House Speaker Kenny Martinez, a committee member, and three other Democrats voted against the bill, which is backed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque, would allow temporary driver’s licenses for certain immigrant youths but stop the state from granting licenses to other foreign nationals without proper immigration documents.
“It’s very frustrating,” Pacheco said of the tie vote. “I think that the issue is fairly simple.”
Pacheco said he is unsure whether he will attempt to move the bill through the full House of Representatives with a floor vote. He tried that strategy during last year’s session, and it failed.
Speaker Martinez says the measure would take away licenses from nine classes of legal immigrants. Other Democrats argued that stripping driver’s licenses would keep tax-paying immigrants from getting to work and taking care of their families.
A state law enacted in 2003 allows for immigrants in the U.S. illegally to get a driver’s license. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Pacheco’s proposal represents the fifth time in the past four years the Legislature has debated repealing it.
Supporters of the repeal say issuing licenses to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally would not make New Mexico compliant with the federal Real ID Act, which says state-issued licenses and ID cards can be accepted for “official purposes” such as boarding planes. Vulnerability to fraud and human trafficking are also some of the arguments put forth by those wanting to deny licenses.
Rep. Miguel Garcia, a Democrat from Albuquerque and the committee chairman, called those fears “a manufactured crisis.”
“It’s not that 97 percent of people in the driver’s license program who are creating the crime . It’s that 3 percent,” Garcia said. “We have that 3 percent corrupt element in all institutions in our country.”
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