CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson State Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, shows his driver’s license at the Clovis City Commission meeting Thursday. He was speaking in favor of a resolution supporting a state Legislature effort to end the practice of giving licenses to undocumented residents. The resolution was tabled, with the intent to be addressed again within 30 days.
After more than 90 minutes of discussion ranging from educational to emotional, the Clovis City Commission decided to table a resolution in support of ending the state’s practice of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
Commissioner Randy Crowder, who sponsored the resolution put forth by State Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, moved for approval early in the meeting, but withdrew his motion after he sensed it did not have votes for passage as presented.
“It makes me very sad,” Crowder said. “I knew (Gov. Susana Martinez would) want to speak very highly of the city of Clovis (for passing the resolution).”
Commissioners intend to take a look at the item again during their Aug. 4 meeting.
A measure to end the practice passed the state House of Representatives, but stalled in the Senate during this year’s legislative session.
Roch said he had seen polls that said residents supported ending the practice, but he wanted to go back to either a special session or next year’s regular session with documented support from his district.
“I don’t want to say, ‘I think 72 percent of my residents approve,’” Roch said. “I want to be able to say, ‘I have elected officials from my district that actually took a stand.’”
The resolution has been approved by the Quay, Roosevelt and Curry county commissions, along with city councils from Logan, Melrose, Causey and Grady.
The Portales City Council also tabled the measure because members wanted more information.
Roch said the issue gets tied up as a partisan issue, but the intent is to stop what he calls a “cottage industry” of fraud, where people set up residences to serve as shell addresses for people who fly in, get a license and leave the state on the same day.
He said if the matter isn’t handled, upcoming federal laws on “Real ID” would require New Mexico residents to obtain passports to board airplanes or enter federal buildings.
Demesia Padilla, a cabinet secretary for the state taxation and revenue department, said since 2003, when the state first allowed licenses for illegal immigrants, about 86,000 licenses have been issued in that manner with potential fraud in about a third of the cases.
Padilla said for an illegal immigrant to get a driver’s license, they’re required to book an appointment over the phone and provide some documentation of residency like a bank statement.
Appointments were tracked by the incoming phone number, she said, and about 262 came from one number.
“That alerts us that there may be a problem,” Padilla said.
The licenses can be a gateway to more fraud, she said, and be a tool for terrorists.
“Don’t be surprised if the next time something happens,” Padilla said, “they have New Mexico driver’s licenses.”
Commissioners asked how the measure could affect insurance costs. Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the state has an insurance problem in either case.
Padilla said a driver’s license isn’t necessary to insure a vehicle, and if any Motor Vehicle Department was requiring one, it needed to stop.
Commissioner Fidel Madrid said people who are getting the licenses fraudulently are committing fraud to do so, and asked why that wasn’t the focus instead of potentially taking licenses away from people trying to work or take their children to school.
Commissioner Fred Van Soelen responded that the fraud wouldn’t be possible without the loopholes the licensing creates.
Padilla said the state should be using its time chasing tax cheats, but is using resources on license fraud.
Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said he was concerned the measure would be like taking medication for a stomach ache, then finding out the side effect is leg amputation.
Crowder said he didn’t understand where the concerns were coming from, because the measure only said the commission, “supports an initiative to change New Mexico law.”
Mayor Gayla Brumfield said she read through the resolution, and was troubled that it would have the city support discontinuing driver’s licenses and identification cards. She thought the resolution could separate the two items.
Roch said the commission could amend the resolution how it saw fit. But Van Soelen said licenses and identification cards couldn’t be separated because they both lead to the same issue.
Citizens who spoke against the resolution felt it targeted Hispanics while claiming to address other issues.
Alberto Arriaga, speaking through an interpreter, said he takes driving privileges very seriously, and he is a law-abiding resident who pays his taxes and takes his kids to school.
Jasmine Loya, who graduated in May from Eastern New Mexico University and grew up in Clovis, said a change would be one more obstacle for people seeking education.
Speaking in favor of the resolution, Tim Ashley said the issue needed to be resolved, and he didn’t like the idea of having to buy passports for everybody in his family.