SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is backing a proposal that would offer temporary driver’s licenses to certain immigrant youths but stop New Mexico from continuing to grant licenses to other immigrants who illegally came to the country.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said Wednesday the governor worked closely with Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales and Democratic Sen. John Smith of Deming in developing the legislation that he described as a “reasonable compromise.”
However, immigrant rights activists oppose the bill and say it will discriminate against young immigrants who can qualify for a driver’s license because the federal government has allowed them to legally remain in the United States.
“This is a false compromise,” said Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group.
The legislation would grant only temporary licenses, which couldn’t be used to board airliners or enter a federal building, to young immigrants covered by a federal policy deferring immigration enforcement.
Those immigrants, who came to the United States as children, can obtain work permits, and Diaz said they can receive Social Security numbers, which would entitle them to a traditional driver’s license in New Mexico and other states.
Diaz said in a statement that the legislation “manages to discriminate against immigrant youth who are lawfully present in the United States by forcing them to apply for a discriminatory, one-year license.”
Besides the temporary license for some young immigrants, the legislation would create two separate licenses for state residents to choose from — one complying with the federal Real ID Act, which imposes security standards for driver’s licenses, and a license that wouldn’t meet the requirements of the federal law and couldn’t be used to board airliners.
New Mexico and Washington state allow undocumented immigrants to obtain the same driver’s license as a U.S. citizen. Utah grants a special driving permit to immigrants that can’t be used for identification, such as to board airliners.
Martinez-backed proposals to scrap New Mexico’s licensing system have passed in the House in the past two years with the backing of Republicans and a handful of Democrats, but the legislation has died in the Senate.
A House committee last month shelved a bill to stop issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.