- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Two New Mexico lawmakers have launched a new effort to repeal a state law that allows immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, and Rep.-elect Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, made a proposal Tuesday just as Republicans were preparing to take control of the House and Gov. Susana Martinez is set to start a second term following her landslide re-election victory.

“Providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants has turned New Mexico into a magnet for criminal activity, leading to elaborate fraud rings and human trafficking,” said Pacheco, a former police officer. “It is a dangerous practice that needs to be repealed once and for all.”

In February, a federal jury in Las Cruces convicted a Chinese national Tuesday of 64 felonies for running a ring that helped immigrants illegally obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses. The man was one of several people who have been prosecuted in recent years for running similar rings in New Mexico in recent years.

Previously, similar repeal measures have failed. Martinez has said she would sign the legislation. It’s unclear if the new proposal will pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Proponents of the repeal say the law has made New Mexico vulnerable to fraud since criminal syndicates can come to the state and get driver’s licenses.

But opponents say the law helps immigrant parents support their U.S.-born children and makes New Mexico a much more immigrant-friendly state.

Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Somos Un Pueblo Unido, called the new repeal efforts “anti-family” and vowed to help defeat the measure.

“It’s clear the Rep. Pacheco and Rep. Nunez don’t care about the thousands of U.S. citizen children in New Mexico whose parents need licenses to put food on their tables,” Diaz said.

Diaz said immigrant advocates are willing to support a bill closing the loopholes that allow fraud.

The move comes as California prepares to issue similar driver’s licenses on Jan. 2 after President Barack Obama recently announced administrative relief for some immigrants in the country illegally.

Nearly 379,000 appointments were made between Nov. 12 and Nov. 30 compared with roughly 176,000 during the same period a year ago, said Armando Botello, a spokesman for the California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

California expects to receive 1.4 million applications for the new licenses in the first three years and has been hiring new employees, adding offices and printing additional test preparation materials to help meet the expected demand.

Diaz said the New Mexico law license is still needed since Obama’s plan will only help around 40 percent of immigrants in the state.

New Mexico passed its state law in 2003 allowing licenses for people in the country illegally. It was signed by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson.

First-time driver’s licenses issued to immigrants in the country illegally plunged by nearly a third in the past year despite no change in New Mexico’s policy of granting driving privileges, records show.

According to a review of state records by The Associated Press, there was a 31 percent decline in first-time licenses issued to foreign nationals from 2012 and 2013. Licenses granted during the first quarter of this year dropped by nearly a third compared to the same period last year.

There’s no clear explanation for the recent trend, although licenses have been declining since Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson left office at the end of 2010.


Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras

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