Walt Rubel: Driver's license issue moved to tail end of State of the State


By Walt Rubel Las Cruces Sun News January 25, 2014  The State of the State address was winding down Tuesday, and it looked like Gov. Susana Martinez was finally ready to give up on the issue that had driven a wedge through the Legislature during her first two years in office.

Her speech began with a thought for the victims of the recent school shooting in Roswell. She went on to discuss the state budget, tax reform, economic development, education reform, health care expansion, water infrastructure and child-abuse laws.

Nothing about driver's licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally until the very end. What had been a battle cry is now relegated to a few mop-up lines at the tail end of the speech.

It probably should have been left out altogether.

Conditions were optimal for change in 2012 when Martinez made this a top priority, at the expense of other needed reforms. New Mexico was one of just three states in the country at that time to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, allowing the governor to argue that we were out of step with the rest of the nation, thus making us a magnet for immigrants throughout the country.

But that's not longer the case.

California and Illinois are among the 10 states that have since passed laws allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. The arguments of 2012 are no longer valid.


Then, in the election later that year Martinez helped rid the Legislature of her staunchest ally on the issue. Her political action committee, Susana PAC, spent money to help defeat Rep. Andy Nuñez, I-Hatch, who had carried the bill for her in the House. She got Phillip Archuleta instead. Hard to see how that helped her cause.

The driver's license issue dominated the state's last 30-day session in 2012, to the exclusion of all other issues. The result was the Legislature's most unproductive session in quite some time.

It was moved to the back burner last year, allowing for progress to be made on other issues, including a tax package passed in the closing seconds of the session (or after) that stands as the governor's most significant legislative accomplishment to date — for better or worse.

One would have thought that would be the end of the governor's quixotic quest. But there it was again Tuesday.

"I'm once again asking this Legislature to repeal the dangerous law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," she said.

"We've seen several fraud operations busted recently. Just last year, an elaborate scheme was uncovered in eastern New Mexico — where hundreds of driver's licenses were sold to illegal immigrants. The ringleader bragged that he made $30,000 a month.

"I've put forward a strong compromise to repeal this law and still allow driving privileges for Dreamers. It's time to act. The Legislature should do what the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans are demanding — repeal this dangerous law."

Dangerous law? Exactly what dangers have New Mexicans been subjected to since the legislation was enacted in 2003? How many of us have fallen prey to those dangers in the decade since then, and to what tragic end?

Martinez has proposed allowing "Dreamers" — those brought to the country as children — to get driver's licenses, but not their parents. She thinks it's more "dangerous" to have adults behind the wheel than teenagers? Or that it's more dangerous to have unlicensed, uninsured drivers on our roads than those with the proper documentation?

We've been living with this law for long enough to understand its impacts and to recognize fear-mongering when we hear it. Other states have seen our results and, rather than being scared off, have instead decided to join us.

Walter Rubel is editorial page editor of the Sun-News. He can be reached at wrubel@lcsun-news.com or follow @WalterRubel on Twitter.