New Mexico immigrant license repeal effort passes 1st hurdle

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By Russell Contreras Associated Press January 30, 2015 SANTA FE--A proposal to repeal a New Mexico law that allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses has cleared its first hurdle Thursday despite objections from immigrant groups and a comparison to the Holocaust. 

After a more than four-hour hearing, the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to move along the GOP-led proposal aimed at revamping the state driver’s licenses laws.But before the vote, some Democratic lawmakers compared the repeal measure to the rounding-up of Jews by Nazi Germany and the segregation of black children under Jim Crow.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said any repeal would create more divisions in New Mexico and force hard-working immigrants in the state into second-class citizenship. “It reminds me of stories we heard about the Holocaust,” she said, drawing gasps in the crowded room. Another Albuquerque Democrat, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, angrily criticized the proposal and said it was an attack on civil rights in the state. “It is taking us back when the black little kids had to sit behind the white kids,” she said.Committee chair, Rep. William “Bill” R. Rehm, R-Albuquerque, called reference to the Holocaust “over the top” and said the bill was about public safety.

“I’m part Hispanic. This is not about race,” Rehm, a retired police officer, said. “Over 70 percent of the people of New Mexico say we need to end issuing licenses to illegals.”

The proposal sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque calls for creating a “two-tier” driver’s license system for residents and some immigrants brought over as children without legal documents.

But Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said that would only create “scarlet-letter” licenses for immigrants.

Immigrant advocates packed the hearing Thursday to tell lawmakers how the bill has helped their families and also said the repeal effort was based on bigotry.

Pacheco said that criticism was unfair. “I’m not the devil incarnated,” he said. “But this is a nation of law and we have laws for a reason.”

Pacheco said he also came from a family of immigrants.

The proposal now moves onto the House Judiciary Committee before going before the full House, now under Republican control for the first time in 60 years.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has tried repeatedly to have the driver’s license law repealed, but those efforts have generated staunch opposition from Democrats.

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