New Mexico Issuing Fewer Driver's Licenses To Undocumented
A mock driver's license plate immigrant advocates use to defend a New Mexico law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a driver's license.
Monica Ortiz Uribe
August 23, 2013

The Associated Press is reporting the number of driver’s licenses issued to immigrants without legal status in New Mexico has dropped significantly in the first half of this year. 

According to state records reviewed by the AP, the number of first-time driver’s licenses given to undocumented immigrants fell by 21 percent since January. 

There is no clear reason for the decline, but a poor state economy that has been consistently losing jobs for the past few years is a clear contender. 

The AP quotes Marcela Diaz, the Executive Director of Somos U Pueblo Unido, an immigrant rights group:

Immigrant workers generally go where they have family and where they have job opportunities. Clearly there aren’t many job opportunities in New Mexico.

New Mexico is one of only two states in the country that allows immigrants without papers to obtain the same driver’s license as legal residents. The other state, Washington, has also seen a decline in the number of first-time licenses issued to undocumented immigrants, but the decline there is only about 5 percent.

Proponents of the New Mexico law argue that the law improves public safety by allowing immigrants who can pass the test to drive to work and school, and obtain insurance. The state is heavily Latino with an estimated 85,000 or 5.6 percent of the state labor force undocumented.  

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has waged a long campaign to repeal the state law, but has been consistently defeated by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.  Martinez claims the law makes the state a magnet for immigrants seeking licenses, and vulnerable to fraud.

Seven other states have enacted laws this year to allow immigrants to obtain special driver’s licenses that would allow them to drive, but could not be used as legal identification. This kind of two-tier system is similar to what is currently in place in Utah. These laws should go into effect this year.