It's unlikely undocumented immigrants will lose the opportunity to obtain New Mexico driver's licenses%uFFFDat least for now.
After a bill by state Rep. Andy Nuñez, DTS-Doña Ana, aimed at barring licenses for undocumented immigrants passed the House, the Senate amended it heavily. The final bill tightens residency requirements and penalties for license fraud, but still allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. Currently, it's awaiting agreement from the House. But even if the House approves it, Gov. Susana Martinez will veto the bill, spokesman Scott Darnell tells SFR in an email.
"It's a sham bill that turned legislation to end the issuance of driver's licenses into one that continues that practice," Darnell writes.
The session ends March 19, but the debate will likely resurface.
"I suspect we'll see this issue in an upcoming election," Brian Sanderoff, the president of the Albuquerque-based firm Research & Polling Inc., tells SFR. "There are certain hot-button issues that bring out emotion and differing views, and this is one of them."
That debate already has and will continue to require fact-checking.
“This bill has been introduced to go after foreign nationals who are coming to New Mexico in droves to get licenses because it’s so easy to get licenses here.” %uFFFDState Sen. John Ryan, R-Bernalillo, on the Senate floor March 9.
It depends on how you define “droves” but, according to the US Department of Homeland Security’s most recent estimates, the number of undocumented immigrants living in the US has actually declined, from 11.8 million in 2007 to 10.8 million in 2010. In New Mexico, according to US Census Bureau data, approximately 71 percent of all foreign-born residents entered the state before 2000%uFFFDthree years before the law allowing licenses for undocumented immigrants took effect.
“We still rank the highest for uninsured motorists%uFFFD29 percent in 2007.” %uFFFDSen. Ryan on the Senate floor March 9
During floor debate, Ryan cited a 2007 study by the Insurance Resource Council, an independent nonprofit research organization. IRC Vice President David Corum tells SFR that new data will be released in a few weeks but, for now, the only number he has for New Mexico is the 29 percent quoted by Ryan%uFFFDindeed, the highest in the country in 2007. A study by New Mexico State University's College of Business, however, compares IRC numbers with data from the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division, which reported that less than 10 percent of New Mexico vehicles were uninsured in December 2008%uFFFDdown from 34 percent in 2002.
"A best approximation would be somewhere between the estimates provided by the NM MVD and the IRC, in other words somewhere in the range of 10-29 percent," the study concludes.
Some further clarification comes via a 2007 story on Stateline, the news arm of the Pew Center on the States, in which New Mexico’s then-MVD Director Ken Ortiz reports that New Mexico’s rate of uninsured motorists fell from 33 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2007.
“By the end of May of this year, federal agencies will no longer accept a driver’s license or an ID card unless it is Real ID compliant.” %uFFFDstate Rep. Nuñez during a March 8 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee
Nuñez’ referral is to the Real ID Act, a federal law that requires states to heighten security and issuance procedures on identification cards and driver’s licenses.
But on March 7, the Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline for compliance with the Real ID Act from May 2011 until Jan. 15, 2013%uFFFDthe law's third extension, and an acknowledgment of the millions of dollars most states will spend implementing the act.
While requiring Social Security numbers for all license applicants, as Nuñez' original bill stipulated, would help bring New Mexico closer to compliance, the oft-mentioned idea that the state is alone in its foot-dragging is misplaced: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since Real ID's passage in 2005, 26 others have passed legislation specifically opposing it.
Author's Note: On Tuesday, March 16, the New Mexico House voted against concurrence with the Senate amendments Republicans claimed watered down the driver's license ban for undocumented immigrants. The Senate will now have to concur with the House vote or enter into a conference committee with the other chamber in order to hammer out an agreement. For updates, visit SFReporter.com.