SANTA FE, N.M. — Ever since taking office last year as the nation's first Hispanic female governor, New Mexico's Susana Martinez found her family tree scrutinized over whether her grandfather was an illegal immigrant.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press, however, show that he was lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident in 1918 and became a citizen in 1942, something not even Martinez knew and a discovery that removes a potential trouble spot for someone talked about as an attractive Republican vice presidential prospect for Mitt Romney.
Martinez was surprised at the news, but maintained that his status, citizen or not, didn't affect her political views. "I embrace lawful immigration," she said. "I think it's what makes America wonderful."
The first-term governor insists she's not interested in and wouldn't accept a spot on the ticket. But resolving the questions lifts a "hot potato off her plate," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"It's been a controversy and it's always mentioned when her name comes up in connection with the vice presidency," he said. "Does it help her? Sure, if Romney has any interest in her and if she has any interest in accepting, if offered."
The questions arose after the former prosecutor advocated early last year the repeal of a 2003 law that allowed foreign nationals without Social Security numbers, including illegal immigrants, to get driver's licenses.
News accounts about a 1930 census initially fueled the idea that Martinez's paternal grandparents had illegally entered the country. The census used an "AL" to designate that her grandparents were "aliens."
That designation wasn't an indication of whether they lawfully entered the U.S. It only meant they were not citizens and hadn't filed papers declaring their intent to become one, according to historians and immigration experts.
Critics who opposed Martinez's proposal seized on the reports, arguing that her family offered an example of illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. for a better life and that her proposal was denying others the same chance.
When the questions arose, she couldn't turn to her parents. Her father has Alzheimer's disease and her mother died in 2006. The grandfather died in 1976.Comment on this story
So she initially accepted media accounts and acknowledged that it appeared her grandparents had come to the U.S. without immigration documents. Meanwhile, her proposal died in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
To try to deal with lingering questions, her political organization last fall found documents that indicated her grandfather, Adolfo R. Martinez, had crossed the border several times in the early 1900s.
The immigration documents showed her paternal grandparents followed common practices in crossing what was essentially an open border.