By Milan Simonich The New Mexican January 29, 2015 8:00 pm SANTA FE--Republicans on the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee flexed their newfound muscle Thursday night, advancing two bills to repeal the law allowing state residents without proof of immigration status to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license.Both cleared the committee on 5-4 party-line votes. Democrats, the minority party in the House of Representatives for the first time since 1954, previously had been able to stop the repeal bill in committees they dominated.
Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring one of the bills that moves forward. A similar repeal bill by another Albuquerque Republican, Rep. Bill Rehm, also received the committee’s endorsement after nearly seven hours of debate on both measures.
Rehm, a retired sheriff’s captain, said people who break immigration law disrespect others who try to legally enter the United States. Citing an Albuquerque Journal poll, Rehm said some 70 percent of New Mexico residents want the licensing provision repealed.
Pacheco, facing a packed room with more supporters of the licensing law than people who want it repealed, said striking the law would position New Mexico to comply with the federal Real ID Act.
Pacheco falsely told the committee that New Mexico driver’s licenses can simply be exchanged for licenses from other states, weakening national security.
Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque, countered that states typically require proof of identity and residency before they issue a driver’s license. A fact check of motor vehicle departments in other states shows that Ruiloba is correct. They require a birth certificate or Social Security card before issuing a driver’s license to any newcomer.
Proponents of the license repeal included several of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet secretaries, the New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. They said public safety would improve if the law were repealed.
Clergy members, the Santa Fe Police Department and Santa Fe school board member Susan Duncan were among those who testified in favor of keeping the law.
Duncan said some 3,000 students in Santa Fe are English-language learners who come from homes where parents may not have proof of immigration status. But most of these young people are U.S. citizens who would be hurt if their parents couldn’t take them to school, she said.
Mireya Estrada, a junior at Monte del Sol Charter School, told the committee she makes straight A’s and has aspirations of going to college. Estrada said the licensing law enables her parents to lawfully drive her to school every day.
Allen Sánchez, a spokesman at the Capitol for the state’s three Catholic bishops, said the repeal bill was hypocritical because the state likes having farmworkers and domestics from foreign lands to help fuel New Mexico’s economy.
“We take the labor from this population, and we benefit from that,” he said.
The repeal bills have a good chance of passing the full House of Representatives. The state Senate, though, is controlled by Democrats, many of whom say they favor the existing licensing law.