New Mexico Gov. Says Grandparents Immigrated Illegally, Backs Controversial Driver's License Bill

Gov. Martinez Calls driver'slicense issue one of national security.

ByABC News
September 14, 2011, 10:05 AM

Sept. 14, 2011 -- As New Mexico debates the pros and cons of letting illegal immigrants obtain a driver's license, the state's Republican Gov. Susana Martinez confirmed Wednesday, that her grandparents came to the United States illegally.

"I know they arrived without documents, especially my father's father," said Martinez in an interview to KLUZ-TV, the local Spanish-language affiliate of Albuquerque Univision.

The revelations about the governor's grandparents come at a time when several states have moved to pass laws that crack down on illegal immigrants.

Martinez has come out strongly for a repeal of the law that allows illegal immigrants the chance to get a driver's license. Currently people in New Mexico are not required to produce a Social Security number when applying for a driver's license.

Martinez is pressing the issue as a national security priority, but some critics believe that repealing the law will damage communities in New Mexico.

"I feel like the motivation behind the governor's attempt to deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is primarily to make it harder for immigrant families to live in the state," said Peter Simpson, who is the executive director for the New Mexico office of the ACLU.

Illegal immigrants make up approximately 4.3 percent of the New Mexico population and the state ranks 10th in the percentage of people who are undocumented, according to a study done by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2010.

New Mexico and Washington are the only two states that do not check for immigration status as part of the driver's license application process. Critics of the old law say that New Mexico's policies are making it easier for immigrants or other criminals to slip by undetected.

"It essentially makes people who are violating our immigration laws invisible," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

A New Mexico grand jury last month indicted three people for helping more than 60 Chinese illegal immigrants living in New York obtain New Mexico driver's licenses for $1,500.

Gov. Martinez cited the incident as an example of where the state's leniency was leading to fraudulent activity.

"We have long known of fraud and abuse in our driver's license system and these latest indictments make it clear that we must address the problem," said Martinez in a statement on her website.

Still some say that false driver's licenses don't pose a serious risk to national security. Simpson points out that several of the 9-11 hijackers were here in America on legal visas.

Last week District Court Judge Sarah Singleton temporarily blocked a plan by the governor to randomly check and verify thousands of driver's licenses. The case is being challenged on Constitutional grounds by four state legislators and one woman who argue that the plan unfairly targets Latinos.

The new program would require the randomly selected to schedule an in-person appointment to verify their local status. Any randomly selected person who doesn't show up for the appointment would have their driver's license canceled.

Bad Economy: Illegal Immigrants Scapegoated?

Getting a driver's license is one way for illegal immigrants to gain access to the jobs pool in this country. Having access to a car is critical for anyone who commutes to work and supports a family - illegal immigrants rely on them to get by.