New Mexico Senate Approves Two-Tiered Driver’s License Bill

By VIK JOLLY | March 25, 2015

The New Mexico Senate approved a two-tiered bill on Friday that would continue to grant driving privileges to people in the country illegally.

The compromise reached on the issue calls for two distinct driver’s licenses – one that complies with federal identification requirements and another that does not.

The bill sponsored by Sens. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, cleared the chamber with a 35-5 vote.

However, with the legislative session wrapping up Saturday, it appears unlikely the House would vote on the measure.

The House last month rejected an amendment akin to the long-serving senators’ proposal and approved a bill to end the state’s practice of giving driver’s licenses to people who can’t prove they are in the country legally.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee on Thursday amended that bill to mirror the language in the Ingle-Smith measure but no further action was taken.

The thorny matter of issuing driver’s licenses to people suspected of being in the country illegally has been before the Legislature for years. State officials estimate more than 100,000 licenses have been issued since New Mexico became one of the first states in 2003 to offer licenses to immigrants regardless of status.

“Obviously it’s controversial, but hopefully we’re doing what’s best for New Mexico,” Smith said.

Ingle called it a tough decision. “We’ve got to go forward in some way to get this issue solved,” he said.

Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor, has been pushing to repeal the law since she was first elected in 2010. Her office reiterated the governor’s opposition to the Senate bill.

“This is a proposal that has already failed the House, isn’t Real-ID compliant, and would not require secure IDs in New Mexico,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

Proponents of repealing the 2003 law say polling shows most New Mexicans want to reverse course. They argue that doing so would help prevent fraud and bring the state into compliance with federal identification requirements.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, who voted against the two-tiered measure, said supporting the bill would condone illegal behavior.

Those who want to keep the law the way it is argue that a change will hurt working families. They also point to the growing number of states granting driver’s licenses in recent years to people regardless of immigration status.

In addition, President Barack Obama’s executive actions to allow immigrants to remain in the country have forced some states to allow people covered by his deferred-action program to get licenses.

Ten states now offer licenses to immigrants who can’t prove they are in the country legally.

The driver’s license issue saw heated debate in the House and brought hundreds of protesters to the State Capitol earlier in the session.

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