TUCSON, Arizona – A judge ruled Tuesday that a state program to verify the residency of 10,000 allegedly undocumented immigrants who obtained driver’s licenses in New Mexico may continue, but with significant restrictions.
Sarah Singleton, a state district court judge in Santa Fe, said that while the state Taxation and Revenue Department can investigate in cases where there is reason to suspect fraud, officials cannot target foreign nationals.
She ordered state officials and the plaintiffs who sued to block the program to negotiate a compromise solution.
“This is excellent news, a big win for our community who feared that their licenses were going to be revoked,” Marcela Diaz, executive director of the New Mexico organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido (We Are a United People), told Efe by telephone.
At the end of August, Singleton issued an order temporarily suspending the program to verify the addresses of 10,000 foreigners who had obtained driver’s licenses in New Mexico.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund challenged the law on behalf of a group of New Mexico residents, including several state legislators.
“This order will suspend the implementation of this program at least until next year,” Diaz said Tuesday of Singleton’s latest ruling.
While the court battle is being prepared for, in the coming days the state legislature will debate three bills dealing with the issue.
The bills include HB 18, which would overturn the state law approved in 2003 that authorizes the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, but it would not revoke the licenses that have already been issued.
Meanwhile, HB 22 would establish more severe restrictions on undocumented residents of New Mexico who want to obtain a driver’s license.
HB 26 proposes establishing a system similar to that of Utah, where foreigners who cannot prove that they are legally in the country will be able to receive a driver’s “permit,” but that document will not be able to be used as an official form of identification.
Diaz said Somos Un Pueblo Unido is not opposed to the imposition of restrictions or new requirements and that the group also would support more severe sanctions on those people who commit fraud.
But Diaz and other activists categorically oppose denying drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido also rejects the proposal to issue driver’s “permits” to undocumented foreigners, but the group is in favor of a different type of driver’s license for foreigners without legal residence in the United States.
“We know that many people would be afraid of getting these permits and carrying them with them, because that would be a way of revealing their immigration status to everyone,” Diaz emphasized.
The state legislature is in the middle of a two-week special session during which lawmakers will debate several issues, including driver’s licenses.
The session was called by New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who has tried on several occasions to revoke the state law that allows undocumented people to get driver’s licenses.
Martinez recently admitted that her paternal grandparents illegally crossed the border into the United States. EFE