Local officials differ in their beliefs on whether illegal immigrants should receive New Mexico driver’s licenses.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson instituted the issuing of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Current Gov. Susana Martinez wants the practice stopped and has asked for support from local governments.
The Roosevelt County Commission adopted a resolution Tuesday supporting Martinez by a 3-1 vote.
“Those poor guys need to drive,” said Commissioner Jake Lopez, who voted against the measure. “They need to go to work.”
Lopez said one of his problems with not issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants was that they’ll drive without the license, or insurance.
Illegal immigrants shouldn’t get driver licenses if it’s against the law, Lopez said, but the Legislature, not the counties, should decide the issue.
“There’s a lot of other things we have to be worrying about besides people not having a license,” he said.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Malin Parker said issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants would affect the safety of his deputies and all other law enforcement officers on a daily basis.
If illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses under false names with forged documents, Parker said, officers won’t know who they’re dealing with or if that person is a violent criminal.
“Forged documents are a dime a dozen,” he said.
Parker estimated about half of the illegal immigrants his personnel interact with have forged documents if they have any identification. Because most have no documents at all, he said, they would have to get driver’s licenses without providing proof of identification.
In addition, Parker said if people get driver’s licenses but can’t speak English, they can’t read the road signs in English.
“That alone is another safety issue,” he said.
Parker also said law enforcement officers in other states may scrutinize anyone with a New Mexico license more closely because they know the state issues licenses to illegal immigrants.
As for the Portales Police Department, Police Chief Jeff Gill said his officers hadn’t experienced problems with forged documents or illegal immigrants with driver’s licenses.
“It’s really not an issue with us,” he said.
Commissioner Billy Cathey voted for the resolution to discontinue the driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“If I have to provide a whole bunch of proof to get my license, and I have my old license there with me, I don’t think an illegal immigrant should be able to get legal identification,” he said, adding many of his constituents have told him they have similar feelings.
Cathey said he doesn’t blame the illegal immigrants for coming to the U.S., but he thinks they need to be here legally to get a license.
At the commission meeting, Dr. Max Torres said health care providers need identification in order to track people who come in for treatment. U.S. identification is the easiest way, he said.
Roosevelt General Hospital CEO Larry Leaming said whether or not people have a driver’s license wasn’t much of an issue at RGH, although it might be easier if more people had identification.
“We’re still going to take care of them,” he said.
A photocopy of a license might help a hospital track someone if it was hard to collect payment from them, Leaming said.
Also, hospital staff often check identification to make sure the person presenting an insurance card is the right one, he said. The insurance won’t pay if the wrong person presented the card.