A House bill aimed at creating a driving privilege card for immigrants without legal documentation, passed the House after almost three hours of debate and an attempt to replace it.
Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, presented his driver’s license bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, to the House floor and faced a lengthy debate,mostly by Democrats who opposed the legislation.
Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, argued that, if passed, the bill would encourage discriminatory practices by law enforcement agencies and the Motor Vehicle Division.
Pacheco said he had no intention of discriminating against anyone and that his bill was focused on public safety. He said he listened, for years, to arguments that undocumented immigrants need the ability to legally drive.
In the past, Pacheco has sponsored legislation that would not allow immigrants to legally drive.
If it becomes law, Pacheco’s bill would require all New Mexicans with legal documentation to obtain a driver’s license that is compliant with REAL ID, while those without documentation would be issued a driving privilege card. Throughout the two previous committee meetings on the bill, Democrats argued that the legislation would not allow New Mexicans the choice between the two cards.
The Democrats’ stance didn’t change on the floor.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, introduced a floor substitute that would establish a two-tier licensure system in which New Mexicans would be given the choice between the two cards.
A majority of the night’s debate surrounded Martinez’ substitute, mostly in support from Democrats.
Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, praised the substitute and urged Republicans to vote in favor of the bill.
“The elegant solution is what we have in front of us,” Chasey said of the substitute.
Ultimately, the substitute failed 31-38, with Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos as the only Democrat to vote against it. Garcia Richard co-sponsored a bill this year that would allow a Real ID compliant identification card, not used for driving. Garcia Richard has been targeted in the past on the driver’s license issue and has promised to support legislation that does not allow those who in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses.
Debate on the actual bill wrapped up about three hours after the start of the floor session and ended in a vote of 39-30 to pass Pacheco’s bill. Garcia Richard and Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming were the two Democrats who voted in favor of Pacheco’s bill.
Irwin, like Garcia Richard, has voted with Republicans on the issue over the years.
Following the floor session the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico released a statement saying many New Mexicans do not want a driver’s license that doubles as a national ID card.
“Aside from our obvious concerns about immigrants being targeted by police, we believe that this harms U.S. citizens by forcing them to get a Real ID compliant driver’s license,” ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson said.
Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, found himself in hot water from statements saying that the bill was like indentured servitude.
“As a Hispanic, this kind of careless and extreme rhetoric coming from a member of the legislature is unacceptable,” Representative Monica Youngblood said in a statement sent by the Republican caucus before debate on the bill had even ended. “To compare this compromise bill to the horrors of slavery shows how uninformed Representative Martinez is on the issue.”
Pacheco’s bill will head to the Senate to await committee assignments.
Correction: This story originally referred to the Motor Vehicle Division as the Motor Vehicle Department.