Debate Over Driver's Licenses in New Mexico
POSTED: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 - 9:31pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 12:08pm
New Mexico is one of only three states that doesn't require proof of legal residency to get a driver's license. And since the Motor Vehicle Division in New Mexico is seeing more foreign nationals getting licenses, some say it's time to change the law.
"It's a public safety issue more than anything else," said state representative Antonio Lujan of Dona Ana County.
That issue - you don't need to prove legal residency to get a drivers license. Back in 2003, that became the law in New Mexico. Today, its become the center of an immigration debate.
Lujan says, illegal immigrant or not, the motive behind the law is to make sure that everyone on the road - regardless of legal status - has car insurance.
"I don't know about you but if someone's going to hit me, I'd rather they have auto insurance than not," he said.
But there's been recent backlash against this bill and now, with Arizona's immigration law passed, the MVD in New Mexico is seeing a spike in foreign nationals getting licenses.
Lujan says it's all a blame game.
"In times of an economic downturn there are strong anti-immigrant feelings," he said.
New Mexico issued more than 10,000 licenses to immigrants in the first half of this year. Compare that to just over thirteen thousand for all of last year. State senator Rod Adair of Roswell, NM, says he saw this coming when he voted the bill down back in 2003.
"We have inadequate safeguards to ensure that the person is a legal resident in the United States," Adair said. "We made that argument then that we were going to make our state a magnet for illegal immigration."
He argues that because without a license, you can't get a job, get on a plane, or buy alcohol, the law will likely be revisited in the next legislative session. Even though New Mexico is only one of 3 states in the country that allows licenses for illegal immigrants, Lujan denies that it might encourage more illegal immigrants to come to the "Land of Enchantment."
"Our borders are not being overrun," Lujan said. "It's an issue that's being used as political bait."
MVD officials say that those applying for a driver's license still need to show two proofs of identification, like a passport (regardless of what country it's issued in), and two proofs of New Mexico residency, such as a utility bill or bank statement.
Also - to the motive behind this law - according to the Insurance Research Council, New Mexico has the highest rate of uninsured drivers in the country.