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Gov. Martinez Should Know Better

Gov. Martinez Should Know Better

Photo: New Mexico Drivers License

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New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is pressing her state’s legislators to repeal a law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. The move is seen as anti-immigrant by many immigrant advocates.

It’s possible to view the governor’s campaign to reverse the law as relatively uncontroversial. New Mexico is only one of three states with such laws (the others being Washington and Utah). Reversing the law would only make New Mexico like the rest of the 47 states.

The controversy lies in that, not only is Gov. Martinez an American of Mexican descent, her paternal grandparents entered the United States illegally from Mexico.

Immigrant advocacy groups are labeling the governor a hypocrite for supporting legislation against undocumented immigrants when her own grandparents entered and stayed in the U.S. illegally. In response to the criticism, Gov. Martinez’s office released this statement: “It’s unfortunate that some are choosing to personally attack the governor, but these tactics prove that supporters of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants have run out of legitimate defenses for a bad policy.”

If Gov. Martinez wants to ignore the fact that her grandparents were undocumented immigrants – and that the events of her life, including her governorship, would’ve been nearly impossible if her grandparents hadn’t entered and stayed here illegally – that’s up to her. But the governor is wrong in saying that her opposition uses the realities of her family history in their attempt to defend a defenseless political position.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to allow undocumented immigrants to legally obtain a driver’s license in the United States.

Driver’s licenses are usually a primary form of identification in the U.S., and might especially be so for the undocumented. Surely all Americans can agree that proper identification is a necessity in securing our communities. When a law enforcement officer pulls someone over, he might not know whether or not the person behind the wheel is here legally, but the officer should at least know where the driver lives.

Also, it’s clear that undocumented immigrants are sharing the roads with us anyway, whether they can get their hands on a license or not. Allowing these individuals to take a driving test and be state-certified to operate a motor vehicle will help ensure that the people using the roads also know the rules of the road.

It’s truly disappointing to see nativist measures being proposed by a Latina governor whose own grandparents entered and stayed here illegally. It’s especially bizarre that an anti-immigration policy might be given any kind of credence in a border state where more than 45 percent of residents self-identify as Latino. Pro-immigrant activists are not asking Gov. Martinez to sympathize with a people completely unfamiliar to her; their only expectation was that the governor would empathize with people no different than her own grandparents.

Latinos of all backgrounds and nationalities need to do the same. Given the facts, illegal immigration is an intimately Latino issue. History professor Lisa Ramos at Texas A&M University suggests that most Latinos in the U.S. have at least one undocumented immigrant in their family trees.

It seems Gov. Martinez has fallen asleep in the process of reaching for the American Dream. If illegal immigration had not been a principal facet of the Latino immigrant experience in 20th-century America, there probably wouldn’t be a Gov. Martinez today, the first Latina governor in the United States history.

Gov. Martinez needs to wake up.


In 2007 Hector Luis Alamo co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, and has contributed regularly to the site since then. From December 2010 to May 2011, Hector was Opinions Editor for UIC’s Chicago Flame. In April 2011, he became a regular contributor for Hispanically Speaking News. Hector studied history at the University of Illinois at Chicago where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.