The New Mexico Senate has rejected a proposal, heavily supported by GOP Governor Susana Martínez, to ban the issuing of driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
The Senate voted 24-17 Wednesday night against a proposal that would have ended the practice of granting licenses to foreign nationals without a Social Security number.
The vote came a week after the state's House of Representatives resurrected the bill partly because of political pressure from Gov. Martínez, who since winning the election, has repeatedly demanded that legislators vote on the issue.
Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said it's a public safety risk to issue licenses to those living in this country illegally.
"It is our responsibility, in my opinion, that we ... protect our citizens from these people that have no other business other than to conduct crime, to engage in illegal activities," Ryan said to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
But Democrats said the move was politically motivated and targeted Mexican immigrants.
"This is basically a bill that is very biased against Mexican nationals," Sen. Richard Martínez told the Santa Fe New Mexican. "Actually, I think the bill is a political key for our governor to run for something else or to run for election."
Under a 2003 law, more than 80,000 driver's licenses have gone to foreign nationals. The state says it doesn't know how many of those went to undocumented immigrants because it doesn't ask the immigration status of license applicants.
Three states — New Mexico, Washington and Utah — allow undocumented immigrants to get licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship.
Since the 2003 passage of the law allowing people to obtain driver's licenses without providing proof of immigration status, New Mexico has issued 82,700 licenses to foreigners.
The state has no information on how many of those people were undocumented immigrants.
Despite the victory on driver's licenses, New Mexico activists remain concerned about the executive order Gov. Martínez signed early this month requiring state police to verify the immigration status of anyone placed under arrest.
Her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson, issued an order in 2005 expressly barring state police from questioning people about their immigration status.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.
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