Let’s all admit this isn’t Gov. Susana Martinez’ fault. It also isn’t the fault of Democrats in the New Mexico Legislature.
Policymakers have battled for years over how to address the reality that thousands of immigrants without legal status live in New Mexico and drive on our roads.
In an effort to reduce the rate of uninsured motorists, ensure that drivers have passed basic knowledge and skill tests, and with a spirit of compassion, we’ve allowed people without legal status to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses since 2003. That let many come out of the shadows a bit. They could legally drive their kids to school and themselves to work and other places.
I’ve known immigrants without legal status who are good people. Some fled horrific situations elsewhere. Some, like Doña Ana County residents Alejandra Gomez and Alan Tarango, whom I profiled in 2013, were brought here by their parents and have never known another home. Others were invited in and given jobs while our system looked the other way. Many are just seeking a better life.
The downside: Some foreign nationals have paid criminal rings to help them fraudulently obtain licenses. One ring allegedly helped citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala, Uruguay and Honduras get New Mexico licenses and then move to other states.
Those whose focus is helping immigrants living in New Mexico without legal status have a valid viewpoint. So do those who fear, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that people who want to cause harm might misuse our licenses.
While our state-level policymakers are in the thick of a contentious debate about our licenses, let’s remember that the core problem is the federal government’s failure to reform the United States’ broken immigration system.
The feds have put state-level policymakers in a complex and unfair position—having to deal with the fallout of Washington’s inaction.
Now the feds are beginning to enforce a 2005 national security law—the REAL ID Act—that punishes residents of states, including New Mexico, whose licenses don’t meet certain standards. Such licenses are no longer valid forms of identification to get onto military installations and some other federal facilities. Licenses that aren’t REAL ID compliant may eventually not get people on airplanes.
The feds are exacerbating their mess by forcing REAL ID on states without first addressing immigration. It’s maddening. State-level policymakers have every right to be pissed off.
In New Mexico they’re directing their anger at each other, which threatens our ability to find compromise. REAL ID forces us to resolve this now.
We’ve come a long way this session, with Martinez agreeing to give immigrants without legal status a way to legally drive. The debate is now about details—including whether such immigrants have to be fingerprinted and how often they’ll have to renew driving privileges.
With tensions high, I fear the final details could derail compromise, leaving us all with licenses that don’t comply with REAL ID.
Can our policymakers all please take a breath? Can you admit that those with whom you’re debating also have valid views and are unfairly forced to wrestle with issues the federal government refuses to fix?
All people living in New Mexico—citizens, immigrants with legal status, and immigrants without legal status—need you to resolve this. We’re counting on you.
Haussamen runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government that seeks to inform, engage and build community. Reach him at email@example.com, on Facebook at /haussamen, or on twitter @haussamen.