February 15, 2016

House sends driver’s license bill to governor’s desk

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Members of the public lined up to speak against the Republican driver's license bill

The House of Representatives Monday late afternoon voted 65-1 to concur with the Senate’s version of the driver’s license bill, bringing the heated issue to an end, at least for now.

Members of the public lined up to speak against the Republican driver's license bill

Members of the public lined up to speak against the Republican driver’s license bill

Only Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, voted against the measure, though she did not explain her vote on the floor.

Debate was quick, lasting less than 10 minutes, and featured a few self-congratulatory remarks.

“This is a victory for the people of New Mexico,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “Unquestionably it’s a victory for our immigrant community here in New Mexico.”

The bill allows immigrants who are not in the country legally who don’t already have driver’s licenses to qualify for driver’s privilege cards, which don’t work for identification purposes. Though immigrant rights groups support the legislation, mandatory fingerprinting for undocumented immigrants who currently don’t have driver’s licenses remains controversial to some.

Those who already have driver’s licenses will not be required to submit fingerprints.

In addition to the immigrant provisions, the law will bring New Mexico in line with the federal REAL ID Act.

Those who can prove they are in the country legally can either choose a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license card or a driver’s authorization card that is not valid for federal identification purposes.

No one who can prove they are in the country legally will need to provide fingerprints.

The pro-immigrant rights advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido previously declared victory, saying the bill doesn’t take driving privileges away from undocumented immigrants and bars the state from sharing fingerprint data with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The fingerprints can be provided to the FBI for background checks. FBI regulations do not allow the fingerprints to be shared with other agencies, including immigration authorities.

Gov. Susana Martinez, who has made repealing the state law that allows driver’s license undocumented immigrants one of her flagship issues ever since first running for governor in 2010, has also declared victory.

Now the bill goes to her desk, likely putting an end to the divisive six-year-long battle.

Rep. Andy Nuñez, who first carried the bill to bar driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in 2011 as a Democrat, in 2012 as an independent and last year as a Republican co-sponsor, made the motion for the final vote.

“We worked hard, a good many hours to get this far and I recommend that we vote yes,” he said, closing debate.

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