On Tuesday afternoon, just days before the legislative session ends on March 19, the New Mexico House voted against amendments Republicans say "watered down" a bill aimed at barring driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
That means the new version of HB 78, the immigrant driver's license bill, will now be sent back to the Senate for reconsideration. The Senate may vote to overturn its own amendments; if it doesn't, the two chambers will convene a conference committee to hammer out an agreement.
It also means that, for now, the political hot-button of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants has new life. In light of that reality, here's the rest of our current fact-checking on the various statistics, claims and accusations levelled during the debate--plus a complete source list for this week's news story.
“[A]n overwhelming majority of New Mexicans…want to see the dangerous practice of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants overturned.” —Gov. Susana Martinez in a Mar. 4 press release
Opponents to the current law allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants often cite a poll, published in the Albuquerque Journal in September 2010, which found that 72 percent of voters oppose it.
But in debate on the Senate floor, state Sen. Eric Griego, D-Bernalillo, called the poll “incredibly leading” in its two references to “illegal immigrants,” a phrase immigration advocates say has a negative connotation.
But Sanderoff, whose firm created the poll, says he stands by its language.
“I thought the question bent over backwards to be fair because it gave both the supporters’ and the opponents’ arguments,” Research and Polling, Inc.'s Brian Sanderoff says. “Using the word ‘illegal immigrant’ may give it a negative connotation, but that’s what it is.”
“New Mexico will soon be the only state that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.” —radio spot paid for by Susana Martinez for Governor
On Feb. 17, Fox News reported, “The last three states to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses—Washington, New Mexico and Utah—are now steeped in battles to revise their laws.”
But the story doesn’t end there. In Utah, state legislators not only kept a policy allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, but also passed laws creating a state guest worker program, waivers for employers who hire undocumented immigrants and a labor commission to work with Mexico on encouraging federal guest-worker programs.
And in Washington, state legislators killed a bill barring driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants on Mar. 7.
“Not every foreign national and not every illegal immigrant that comes to this state to get a license is involved in terrorism, in drugs, in various gang activities—but a lot of them are.”
—Sen. Ryan on the Senate floor, Mar. 9
In New Mexico, as in the rest of the country, violent crime has been declining since the 1990s, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting statistics—and in 2009, the state’s violent crime rate was the lowest on record since 1980, at 619 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Beyond that, Wendy Sefsaf, the communications director for the nonpartisan American Immigration Council says, it’s impossible to know the proportion of crimes committed by immigrants—documented or undocumented—versus native-born residents, largely because local law enforcement often isn’t authorized to ask a suspect’s immigration status.
“We just know generally, as a trend, crime rates are much lower among immigrant populations than among native-born populations,” Sefsaf says. If there were a way to prove that undocumented immigrants are more crime-prone, she adds, “I’d love to see the data.”
SOURCES for this week's news:
"foreign nationals...coming to New Mexico in droves"
Department of Homeland Security numbers show a decline in the number of immigrants living in the US.
US Census data shows that approximately 71 percent of New Mexico's foreign nationals came here before 2000
IRC study shows 29 percent
NMSU report estimates between 1o and 29 percent
Stateline.org story quotes former MVD Director Ken Ortiz at a decline from 33 to 11 percent
DHS extends Real ID deadline
NCSL reports 26 states have passed legislation opposing Real ID