ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Immigrant advocates and their allies are preparing for anot her round of rallies and lobbying efforts in their quest to protect a state law that allows some illegal immigrants to obtain a state driver’s license.
The preparation comes as lawmakers are set to begin a new legislative session and after activists have held community meetings around the state to organize immigrants, students and religious leaders.
The 30-day session that begins Tuesday is expected to focus on the state budget, but Gov. Susana Martinez also wants lawmakers to repeal the illegal immigrant driver’s license law.
Martinez has pressed lawmakers to do away with the law before, including a high-profile effort during last year’s session. It also was a key issue in her gubernatorial campaign.
“I don’t know what else can be discussed about it,” Martinez told The Associated Press. “What we need to do is just sit down and vote on the issue. Just vote.”
But Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group, said the only reason the issue is coming up again is because politicians are using the state’s driver’s license repeal to appeal to anti-immigrant voters.
“This is part of a larger narrative to go after immigrants,” said Diaz, who is organizing groups around the state for a rally and lobbying effort Jan. 24. “The law is an incentive for immigrants to follow state law and makes the state safer.”
Diaz predicted that hundreds of immigrants and their allies will come to Santa Fe for the Jan. 24th event, and others will return throughout the session.
New Mexico is one of only three states — the others are Washington and Utah — where an illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license because no proof of citizenship is required. However, Utah’s permits cannot be used as government ID cards.
Joining Somos Un Pueblo Unido is the New Mexico Catholic Conference of Bishops who vowed to bring members to Santa Fe to put pressure on lawmakers to keep the law in place. This week, Catholic churches around the state used the church’s annual “National Migration Week” to pass out information and hold community meetings over the issue.
“The last time we got involved, I think we changed the debate,” said Catholic Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.
In addition, Rev. Angela Herrera, an assistant minister with the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, said members of her church and other interfaith leaders were planning to write letters and lobby lawmakers to keep the law.
Christina Parker, a spokeswoman for the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso, Texas-based immigrant advocacy group, said activists are scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to hold a march in downtown Las Cruces to support the law.
“A day off for most is a day on for us,” said Parker. “We have to keep up the pressure.”