The Associated Press
SANTA FE — The Richardson administration is proposing that illegal immigrants who apply for a New Mexico driver’s license be fingerprinted for background checks.
That would strengthen border security and ensure that applicants for licenses “are who they say they are,” Taxation and Revenue Secretary Jan Goodwin said Wednesday.
New Mexico is one of 11 states that don’t require driver’s license applicants to prove they’re legal residents of the United States.
The state’s 2003 immigrant license law lets foreign nationals present a passport, a federal tax identification number or a consular identification card to apply for a license. Since its passage, about 27,000 immigrants have obtained licenses, Goodwin said.
The program has decreased the rate of uninsured drivers and has increased safety on the roads, Goodwin said.
The head of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe immigrant advocacy group, said requiring fingerprints would turn immigrants away from getting a license and would undermine the program’s public safety goals.
“If people know their fingerprints are going to a federal agency that shares information with the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration laws, the vast majority are not going to apply,” Marcela Diaz said.
Her group will fight any proposal “that would discriminate against immigrants,” she said.
Goodwin said she hopes fingerprinting would not discourage immigrants from applying.
The state proposes to require foreign nationals to be fingerprinted when they go for a driver’s license. Prints would be sent to the state Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Goodwin estimated it would take from 24 hours to several days for the fingerprints to be screened. Licenses would be issued once the fingerprints have been cleared, she said.
Applicants would pay a fee for the screening, but Goodwin could not immediately say how much it would be.
“The governor is still very committed (to immigrant licenses),” she said. “It has been a very successful program.”