- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said she kept pushing for a revision to a state law that grants driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally because residents urged her to continue the fight.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Republican who is the nation’s only Latina governor said she wasn’t bothered by criticisms that her desire to change the law was based on racism and an anti-immigrant agenda. Instead, residents who wanted to see the law revised motivated her to try repeatedly to change it, she said.

“When New Mexicans have your back, you know you are OK,” Martinez said. “As a prosecutor for 25 years, I been called a lot of names … It rolls off my back.”

This weekend, the New Mexico Democratic-controlled Senate and GOP-led House passed a bill that would stop immigrants in the country illegally from obtaining new driver’s licenses. Residents would have the option of applying for a driver’s license that is compliant under the federal REAL ID Act or getting a noncompliant driver’s authorization card.

Those immigrants would be allowed to get driver’s authorization cards after submitting fingerprints for background checks. The bill now goes to Martinez desk, and she said she would sign it.

The REAL ID Act requires proof of legal U.S. residency for those who want to use state identification to access certain areas of federal facilities. New Mexico had no such requirement.

Since taking office, Martinez had tried repeatedly to repeal the immigrant driver’s license law, but Senate Democrats had blocked the measure. This session, however, Martinez and lawmakers faced pressure to resolve their difference after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the state wouldn’t get an extension on tougher federal REAL ID mandates.

“I was always willing to compromise,” said Martinez, who this session dropped her push for the repeal of driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. “But when it passes unanimously - minus one - you have to wonder why it didn’t pass a whole lot sooner.”

Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant rights group, said the new bill passed thanks to Senate Democrats and advocates who resisted the governor’s draconian provisions to turn the state Motor Vehicle Division into an immigration enforcement agency - a charge the governor’s office denied.

“We were able to put the brakes on the governor’s anti-immigrant agenda,” Diaz said. That included previous attempts to end all driving privileges for immigrants in the country illegally, she said.

Javier Benavidez, executive director of the advocacy group SouthWest Organizing Project, said Martinez and lawmakers wasted valuable time fighting over driver’s licenses since 2011 when they should have been more focused on anti-poverty initiatives and fixing the state’s economy.

“Look at the indicators in New Mexico,” said Benavidez, referring to statistics that show the state with the highest percentages of people living in poverty. “It’s going to take a long time for us to recover.”

For her part, Martinez said she has been focusing on trying to diversify the state’s economy and pointed to various initiatives aimed at attracting new businesses. She called criticism that the driver’s license issue was a diversion is “absolutely incorrect.”

“I’ve never taken my eyes off the ball,” she said.

___

Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at https://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide