“We’re here telling Susana not to take our licenses,” said demonstrator Jessica Santos (left). “This is the first time I’ve been here. We really need our licenses. There’s no point for her to take them away from us.”
Two measures proposed this session by Republican representatives in the House would make good on Gov. Susana Martinez’s campaign promises to overturn state law that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses.
An estimated 200 people turned out on Monday, Feb. 2, to oppose HB 79 (sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque) and HB 39, which would create a separate state license or ID card for people who can’t show proof of lawful U.S. entry. Its sponsor Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, says the two tiers of licenses will get the state into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act.
Julia Rosa Lopez Emslie (right) is a retired educator now serving on the board of directors for Somos un Pueblo Unido, a human rights organization based in Santa Fe. She said she’s been involved in the effort to permit immigrants’ driver’s licenses since current law was enacted 12 years ago.
Said Lopez Emslie, “We are really concerned about 100,000 New Mexico-born children of immigrant parents. If we take those licenses away, we’re going to really disenfranchise these families, and they’re not going to be able to take their children to school, to medical services. They’ll have to go back into the shadows.”
Joseph Garcia is an instructor at the University of New Mexico’s Chicana/o Studies Program. Garcia said legislation to repeal driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants represents “neo-colonialism at its finest—when you teach marginalized communities to hate themselves and to hate their own communities. It’s immoral.”
Proponents of HB 39 and HB 79 who testified in the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee last week included four of Martinez’s cabinet secretaries, members of the State Police and the CEO of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
Laura Nuñez is a substitute teacher whose grandparents were immigrants. To her, the driver’s license issue affects both public safety and local economies. Other states are offering driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, said Nuñez, “why are we going the other way? Before this governor, there wasn’t a problem. So why is there now?”
Newly appointed House Rep. Stephanie Maez, D-Albuquerque, was among the state legislators urging the public to lobby for keeping the state law as-is. “We need driver’s licenses for a number of reasons,” said Maez, “from insurance to pure logisitics.” She said as a single mom, she couldn’t imagine not being able to drive her kids to school and activities.
Rallying alongside representatives from several faith organizations was Justin Remer-Thamert, program director for the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. He said the governor and some lawmakers who cite fraud as a reason for undoing current law are wrong. “The MVD has done a great job in breaking down fraud and not allowing that to be such a problem. It really needs to be looked at from a moral and human lens.”
Amber Royster (right), director of Equality New Mexico, appeared at the rally with the group’s Southern New Mexico Field Coordinator, Myra Llerenas (left). Said Royster, “We’ve had a law that’s worked for ten years, so why the heck are we wasting a bunch of time, energy and money to repeal something that already works and is already being modeled by other states at this point? We already know as LGBT people that separate is not equal, so this idea of the two-tiered driver’s license flies in the face of what equality actually is.”
Patrick Barrett, who graduated from UNM with a degree in political science, works with Somos un Pueblo Unido. “Our brothers and sisters should be entitled to drive on our roads and ensure their children can get a proper education,” he said. “America was founded upon equality, so that’s why I’m here.”