- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who has drawn national attention and criticism from immigrant advocacy groups for trying to stop illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses, has acknowledged her paternal grandparents came to the U.S. illegally.

“I know they arrived without documents, especially my father’s father,” the Republican said Wednesday in an interview in Spanish with KLUZ-TV, the Albuquerque Univision affiliate.

Reports about Mrs. Martinez’s grandfather coming across the border from Mexico illegally have surfaced numerous times over the past few years. The governor’s office has largely avoided attempts to confirm those reports, saying Mrs. Martinez was unsure of his status since he abandoned the family when her father was young.

Her comments Wednesday appeared to be the first time she has answered the question definitively.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell neither confirmed nor denied the report Thursday but said past media reports citing U.S. Census data from 1930 showed Mrs. Martinez’s grandparents entered the country illegally.

“The governor has no information to the contrary,” Mr. Darnell said in an email. “Neither the governor, nor her father, had a relationship with her grandfather. She never met him and didn’t know him. He abandoned her father when her father was about five years old, leaving her father to be raised by extended family.”

Mrs. Martinez has made headlines recently for her push to repeal a state law that lets illegal immigrants get a New Mexico driver’s license. She has added the issue to the agenda for a special session on redistricting that opened Tuesday.

New Mexico is one of only three states — the others are Washington and Utah — where an illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license because no proof of citizenship is required.

Mrs. Martinez argues New Mexico’s law jeopardizes public safety and attracts illegal immigrants who fraudulently claim to live in the state only to get ID cards that make it easier to stay in the country. Immigrant advocates, however, say the law allows more drivers to be insured in the state and helps law enforcement obtain needed safety data. They say the fraud cases Mrs. Martinez often cites for reasons to change the law are isolated.

A similar repeal effort by Mrs. Martinez failed in the state Senate during the regular session earlier this year. Mrs. Martinez said she wanted legislators to take up the repeal again, despite some lawmakers’ complaints that they should focus largely on redistricting.

It’s unclear if lawmakers will have time to reconsider the repeal during the 30-day special session. But that hasn’t stopped immigrant advocates from coming to Santa Fe to rally against the possible repeal.

In protests this week in Santa Fe, advocates and some religious leaders cited Mrs. Martinez’s family history as a reason the governor should drop her effort to repeal the driver’s license law. Advocates said they planned to have posters of New Mexico driver’s licenses with Mrs. Martinez’s picture during a rally Thursday outside the Capitol.

Mrs. Martinez grew up in El Paso and is the nation’s first elected Latina governor. She has called the issue of her family’s immigrant past irrelevant, arguing immigration laws were different when her grandfather came from Mexico in the 1920s.