Emotions boiled over tonight in a House committee before the passage of two bills proposing to undo state law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
The Civil Affairs and Public Safety Committee passed both measures, voting 5 to 4 along party lines, with Republicans backing the bills and Democrats opposing.
Tensions in the room ran especially high when Democratic legislators presented their comments.
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, referenced segregation in her remarks. She said HB 39, sponsored by Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, would create a “totally unfair” distinction between children of legal citizens and children of undocumented immigrants. “It is taking us back to when … the black little kid couldn’t go into the same bathroom as the white kid.”
Pacheco replied that he “took real offense” at Williams Stapleton’s words, adding he understood many his colleagues felt strongly about the issue.
Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, upped the ante, calling the legislation “mean-spirited.” She said she took offense at undocumented people getting lumped in with lawbreakers during testimony by Pacheco and Demesia Padilla, Secretary of the Tax and Revenue Department, who appeared as the expert witness in support of both measures.
Said Roybal Caballero, “All I can see is that you continue to go after this population. … They are under-represented and misrepresented.”
She went on to say that the measure—which Pacheco and Padilla said would align New Mexico with federal REAL ID requirements—reminded her of the Holocaust when Jewish Germans were required to carry special identity cards.
Committee Chair Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque sponsored HB 79, and Roybal Caballero bristled when he said the legislation’s main target was foreign terrorists “who can come into our society.” Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, urged his colleagues to cool their jets: “Be careful of using allegations of prejudice.”
The Civil Affairs and Public Safety panel also includes newly appointed House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, who sat silent during nearly 7 hours of impassioned testimony and debate.
Repealing the driver’s license law has been a top priority of Gov. Susana Martinez since her first year in office. The House has passed such legislation before, only for it to fail in the Senate.