A study released Monday offers a new take on a now-old debate in the New Mexico legislature—driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
The survey, published by the Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, finds that removing the state’s driver’s license law would cost the state jobs and money. More specifically, the study estimates that the state would lose $38.5 million each year, along with drops of 3 percentage points in labor participation and 1 percentage point in employment.
The study examined a proposal pushed by House Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez over the past few years, though they are looking at a different proposal this year.
“We’re looking at 1,400 jobs that are going to be vacant,” co-author Joaquin Alfredo-Angel Rubalcaba told NM Political Report.
The study comes as New Mexico had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for the second-straight month.
The figures, which were derived using what Rubalcaba referred to as a “residual method” extracting from the U.S. Census Bureau’s yearly American Community Survey, only accounts for undocumented men. Rubalcaba said he doesn’t have empirical data to back up why that is, but he speculates it’s because most undocumented men work in industries like construction that require driving.
Because the federal Census statistics don’t identify undocumented people, Rubalcaba said trying to figure out exact figures of how many live and work in the U.S. can be tricky.
“Even the Pew [Research Center] and the Department of Homeland Security use a residual method to figure out undocumented numbers,” he said.
He and co-author Melina Juárez method is similar to how the Migration Policy Institute and the Kaiser Foundation calculate undocumented numbers.
The authors came with their employment and dollar figures through analyzing the impact of repeal of similar measures in Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee. The study looked at what happened as each of these states complied with the federal Real ID Act but before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) became effective. After an executive order by President Barack Obama, DACA allows undocumented immigrants approved under its provisions to apply for driver’s licenses.
The study looks at the time period from 2006 through 2010.
Rubalcaba said he and Juárez calculated potential dollar figures lost through repeal of the law by calculating the average income of undocumented male immigrants.
They then coupled all of this with 2015 New Mexico population data to come up with the study’s conclusions.
Gov. Susana Martinez and legislative Republicans made full-out repeal of the driver’s license law one of their top priorities for the last five years. This year they are pushing for a policy that would repeal the law but still allow some immigrants who are in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.
Under the bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, undocumented immigrants who under fingerprinting by the state Department of Public Safety and can prove they’ve lived in the state for two years are eligible for one-year, renewable driver’s privilege cards that wouldn’t qualify as IDs. Opponents call the bill discriminatory and are proposing a less restrictive two-tier licensure system that would offer both driver’s licenses that meet Real ID and driver’s privilege cards that don’t work as IDs that undocumented immigrants are eligible for.
Rubalcaba and Juárez’s study doesn’t look at potential impacts of a two-tier system, though he said they’re considering doing so.
He emphasized that his study comes from an objective perspective.
“The purpose of this was just to look at the labor market cost of doing this policy,” he said. “When policymakers make a decision they may just consider this one cost and there may be others that we haven’t considered.”
Senate Democratic leadership has voiced support for a two-tier system where both tiers are full driver’s licenses, but only one tier is compliant with federal REAL ID.
The House passed Pacheco’s bill on mostly Republican party lines last week. The Senate Public Affairs Committee is set to hear four different driver’s license bills, including Pacheco’s, Tuesday afternoon.