Immigrant activists rally on NM driver's licenses

By Russell Contreras

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 24 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

SB1070 proponent Arthur Olivas, left, of Phoenix, argues with SB1070 opponent Andy Hernandez, of El Mirage, Ariz., after the two sides had back-to-back news conferences at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, in Phoenix. Arizona state Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, is introducing a bill to repeal SB1070 during the current legislative session.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SANTA FE, N.M. — Hundreds of immigrant advocates arrived at the Capitol on Tuesday to protest New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's attempts to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

A coalition of immigrant groups, religious organizations and student activists from across the state gathered at the Roundhouse then marched around the Capitol building in what has become a regular scene since Martinez took office last year.

They chanted slogans protesting Martinez and held signs that said "New Mexico is not Arizona" as advocates pressed the governor and state lawmakers to uphold law.

Others held paper plates with an image of Martinez taped on the front and a question mark in the back to highlight that state officials won't be able to keep track of some drivers on the road if the law is repealed, according to the activists.

Meanwhile, some children of immigrants brought to the rally wore shirts with the words: "My mother is an immigrant."

"We all need to get somewhere. I mean, we all need to drive," said Karina Burciaga, an 18-year-old college student who was brought the country illegally from Mexico as a small child. "It's essential for safer communities."

Jose Castro, 17, of Albuquerque, said the issues was not just a matter for illegal immigrants trying to get to work but also for some high school students who need a car to get to school. "I know a lot of people who need their licenses to drive to school," said Castro. "They want to follow the law."

After the rally, immigrant advocates and their allies went to lobby lawmakers.

New Mexico is one of three states — including Washington and Utah — where illegal immigrants can get a driver's license because no proof of citizenship is required.

But Martinez is pressing state lawmakers to repeal New Mexico's law over fraud concerns. During her State of the State speech last week, she urged lawmakers to vote on the repeal, citing polls that showed a majority of state residents supporting scrapping the law.

"This issue has been debated thoroughly," Martinez told lawmakers. "The desire of New Mexicans is clear. And it's time to vote to repeal this law."

However, advocates and their allies, especially the New Mexico Catholic Conference of Bishops, have pointed to another poll that said most state residents supported the law after the Catholic group came out in favor of it on moral grounds. Other religious groups have joined in to recruit members to write to state lawmakers and hold other rallies in favor of keeping the law.

Advocates and some law enforcement leaders have said the law has helped keep better track of motorists in the state and made driving safe since it forces illegal immigrants to purchase insurance and gives state officials their personal data.

A committee meeting on the law is scheduled later during the 30-day session aimed at addressing budget matters.

Some advocates have said they would support a law that tackles fraud but not a full repeal.

The ongoing fight between Latino immigrant advocates and Martinez, the nation's only Latina governor, began almost as soon as she took office last year. Martinez, a Republican, pushed unsuccessfully for repeal during the last regular legislative session and during a special session on redistricting.

Martinez also came under fire from some activists after some media outlets reported that her grandfather may have entered the country illegally and worked in El Paso as a cab driver. Her political aides, however, dismissed those charges and provided documentation that showed he worked legally in the country and later became a U.S. citizen.

Some immigrant advocates said the governor's family history didn't matter but vowed to continue to put pressure on lawmakers not the repeal the law as long as Martinez keeps pushing for it. They said more protests may be planned, and may even be used to organize immigrants to become more politically active.

"This event was important to unite the community," Bertha Campos, 43, of Albuquerque, said in Spanish. "The governor and other politicians need to see that we are united and will continue to fight for this law."

Follow Russell Contreras on twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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