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Thu February 2, 2012
NM Immigrant License Dispute On Hold In Committee
By KRWG News
Santa Fe, New Mexico – SANTA FE, N.M. (KRWG) A fight over whether to stop undocumented immigrants from getting driver's licenses in New Mexico is on hold temporarily while Democrats make a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez who wants to scrap the license policy.
The House Judiciary Committee decided not to take a final vote on the issue late Wednesday night after spending more than four hours debating the politically charged issue.
New Mexico and Washington are the only states allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain the same driver's license as a U.S. citizen. Utah grants immigrants a driving permit that can't be used for identification.
The committee chairman, Rep. Al Park of Albuquerque, warned that, without a compromise, the struggle over the license issue was shaping up as a repeat of last year when the House voted to stop issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants but the Senate rejected that proposal.
Park was among eight Democrats and one independent who joined Republicans last year in approving a bill backed by Martinez to scrap the license policy for illegal immigrants. Park told committee members he will cast a similar vote if the issue reached the floor without a compromise.
"I think if we can do something together that we can call a victory for the people of New Mexico we should try it," said Park, who is not seeking re-election this year and instead is running for a seat on a state regulatory agency.
Park set a deadline of Friday for trying to find a middle-ground proposal.
Rep. Andy Nunez, a Hatch independent sponsoring a bill backed by the governor, said he's "willing to listen to compromise" but wouldn't accept legislation that continued to allow undocumented immigrants to get a license. His measure that would allow foreign nationals to get a license only if they're legally in the United States.
The governor and her allies contend the current license policy jeopardizes public safety and is subject to fraud from immigrants who come to New Mexico only to get a license that can be used as identification across the country.
Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden said his agency had checked a sample of 50 immigrant license applicants and only two still lived in New Mexico, 11 couldn't be found in any public database and five had been convicted of federal charges, including counterfeiting and forgery of immigration documents.
Supporters of the current law say a driver's license is vital for New Mexico's immigrant community, enabling people to get to jobs, school and carry out daily chores.
Mayte Garcia, a college student from Santa Fe, said she was trying to become a U.S. citizen and had testified before the Legislature in 2003 when a law was enacted to allow her to get a driver's license without a Social Security number.
"I come back now to testify because I am in need of a license," said Garcia, her voice breaking up with emotion. "I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter that needs me to drive her to the doctor."
As an alternative to the governor's proposal, Democrats on the committee pushed a measure that would continue to allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants but tighten requirements to include fingerprinting of applicants. It also would increase penalties for license fraud and cancel the more than 90,000 licenses issued to foreign nationals since 2003 unless people renew their permits within two years. The renewal process will give the state an opportunity to verify whether license holders remain New Mexico residents.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. KRWG