By: Milan Simonich
Texas-New Mexico Newspapers
SANTA FE - Gov. Susana Martinez's attempt to repeal a controversial driver's license law appears dead for another year.
The Senate Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday night blocked a bill that would have ended the state's practice of issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants who have proof of New Mexico residency.
Committee members voted 5-3 against the bill. Every Democrat opposed it and all the Republicans supported it.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, submitted a redrawn bill at the last minute that could have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain driving privilege cards good for one year. Currently, those without proof of immigration status can obtain a regular New Mexico driver's license good for up to eight years.
Ingle's bill came under heavy opposition from a crowd of 100 and Democrats on the Senate committee. Though some people billed the measure as a compromise, critics of the plan said it was not.
Under Ingle's bill, younger immigrants who have lawful presence in the United States through a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would have been granted privilege cards to drive. Thirty-seven states, including New Mexico, now grant these childhood arrivals full driver's licenses.
In a belated addition to the bill, Ingle added a provision to allow illegal immigrants to obtain similar driving permits. His proposal appeared to put substantial authority in the hands of the secretary
of taxation and revenue to establish guidelines for licensing illegal immigrants.
But if the federal program for childhood arrivals were ever terminated, Ingle's bill called for ending all driver's licenses for foreign nationals without proof of immigration status.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said he entered the committee hearing prepared to support Ingle's bill. But, after reading it, Ivey-Soto said it was too flawed to get his vote.
Ivey-Soto called the bill one with the best of intentions that would have created "the worst of situations."
An attorney, Ivey-Soto said Ingle's bill had provisions mandating that citizens of the United States reprove their identity to their own government. This was because of a section intended to make New Mexico compliant with the federal Real ID Act, a national identification system.
In addition, Ivey-Soto said, the bill amounted to a back-door repeal of the licensing law for illegal immigrants because of the provision to stop all licenses if the program for childhood arrivals were ended by the next U.S. president.
Sen. Timothy Keller, D-Albuquerque, said he could have supported a bill to crack down on licensing fraud, but he would not support Ingle's proposal.
Creating different tiers of driver's license was not the right way to reform the law, Keller said. He said Ingle's idea would have had a profound negative effect on his International District in Albuquerque.