NM renewing fight over immigrant licenses

SANTA FE — As other states move to provide driver's licenses to immigrants unlawfully in the country, New Mexico has renewed a battle over a proposal by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to stop granting licenses to illegal immigrants.

A House committee on Tuesday shelved the governor's proposal but the issue isn't likely to go away in the Legislature.

The Labor and Human Resources Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to keep the measure bottled up in the panel — a possible way for majority Democrats to try to delay action on the politically thorny issue until the Legislature adjourns in mid-March. The committee's decision also gives Democrats more time to see if there's room for a potential compromise — possibly establishing special driving permits or licenses for illegal immigrants.

The governor's allies still have options, however. They can try to bypass the committee and force a vote by the 70-member House. That's what happened in 2011, and the House ultimately approved the governor's measure although it died in the Senate.

"The public deserves … no, they demand an up or down vote on this," said Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco, of Albuquerque, who sponsored the measure backed by the governor.

The House has approved a similar bill the past two years with the backing of Republicans and a handful of Democrats, but the measure has stalled in the Senate.

New Mexico and Washington state allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same driver's license as a U.S. citizen, but Utah grants a special driving permit to immigrants that can't be used for identification, such as to board airliners.

House Speaker W. Ken Martinez, a Grants Democrat and committee member, pointed out that more states are making licenses available to at least some illegal immigrants.

Illinois just enacted a law to allow illegal immigrants to receive a temporary driver's license that will last three years.

California started issuing driver's licenses this month to young illegal immigrants who qualify for federal work permits.

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