Jan. 24, 2013 -- While immigrants' rights groups and some state governments push for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, one Latina governor is saying no way.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, the first Latina GOP governor in the country, is renewing her push to repeal a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses.
"I am once again asking the legislature to repeal the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," Martinez said in a Facebook post. "I am always willing to discuss this issue with legislators from both parties and explore ways to find common ground, but I believe the most effective solution is to simply repeal this dangerous law."
Martinez has advocated a repeal of the law before, during her run for governor.
In 2011, according to CNN, she said the law had "created an industry of human trafficking."
"People are getting paid to bring other people from all over the country to New Mexico for the whole purpose of defrauding our state," she said.
A spokesperson for the governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
"Currently, illegal immigrants from all over the country come to New Mexico to obtain a license without having the intention of staying here," the state's secretary of taxation and revenue, Demesia Padilla, said in 2011, according to CNN.
But supporters of the law say repealing it would not deter people from driving, it would simply mean more untrained, uninsured drivers on the road. Critics insist that the law leads to fraud.
"We believe that a majority who get licenses don't live here," said S.U. Mahesh, a spokesman for New Mexico's Motor Vehicle Division.
Mahesh said the department gets a case of fraud every few months or so. When asked to square his claim that a majority of the licenses are fraudulently issued with the small case number, he said he doesn't think most instances are caught.
"It's a major identity theft issue for residents here," he continued. "The bottom line is this is not helping with the public safety issue."
The state has prosecuted some New Mexico residents for allowing undocumented immigrants who do not reside in the state to use their addresses to obtain licenses. But studies also show that unlicensed drivers, most of whom are undocumented immigrants, are more likely be involved in fatal car crashes than licensed drivers.
A study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles found that requiring drivers to take written and practical driving tests reduces traffic fatalities.
And with significant rural areas, New Mexico doesn't boast the same public transportation systems that connect cities and towns across the East Coast, and it certainly doesn't have anything comparable to the transit systems in urban cities like New York and Washington, D.C. Unlicensed drivers are often unable to get to work or run errands without driving, so while repeal of the law might deter some would-be drivers, it would be unlikely to fix the problem entirely.
When asked how undocumented immigrants would go about their daily lives without licenses, Mahesh said it was "a good question."
"The bottom line is the governor has made clear this is a bad law that needs to be repealed," he said.
The issue of driver's licenses and undocumented immigrants has become a hot topic lately, with some states, including California, Nevada and Oregon, deciding to issue licenses to young people granted relief from deportation through deferred action.
Other states, including Arizona and Michigan, have said they will not issue licenses to deferred action recipients, although updated USCIS guidelines may lead to a reevaluation of that policy in some states.
New Mexico DREAMers are currently eligible for licenses based on the law Martinez wants to repeal. It is unclear whether deferred action recipients in the state would be eligible for licenses if the current law were changed or repealed. Mahesh referred those questions to the governor's office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Washington and New Mexico currently allow undocumented immigrants to get licenses, while Utah offers them driving permits. Illinois has approved a plan to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain temporary licenses.