They say they do the hardest jobs, sweaty work in oilfields and dairies that Americans will not touch.
That is why Arturo Donlucas and Angel Escarcega want the state Legislature to continue granting New Mexico driver’s licenses to people who do not have proof of immigration status.
“They like the Mexican hand workers because they come in early and work late every day,” said Donlucas, 45, employed at a dairy in Lea County for 12 years.
American businesses rely on immigrant laborers, so legislators should let them keep their driver’s licenses, he said.
He and Escarcega, who makes his living as a laborer in oilfields near Lovington, were among more than 100 blue-collar workers from 11 counties who assembled Wednesday at the state Capitol. All of them defended the law.
Even immigrants in the country unlawfully can obtain a New Mexico driver’s license based on two factors: They must provide proof of their identity, and they must live in the state.
The law has been on the books since 2003, but it has been steeped in controversy for the last three years.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez in 2010 campaigned on repealing it. Unsuccessful thus far, Martinez is making her fifth attempt to strike the law in the legislative session now underway.
“The Legislature should do what the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans are demanding — repeal this dangerous law,” Martinez said in her speech to open the session.
Majority Democrats in the Legislature say the law is humane and that the immigrants who receive driver’s licenses keep the economy humming.
State Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, is again sponsoring the governor’s bill to repeal the law. He said he was empathetic with hardworking immigrants but not persuaded that they should have driver’s licenses if they entered the country illegally.
“I understand how they feel. I’m not the bogeyman,” Pacheco said. “But we need to become compliant with the Real ID Act.”
Pacheco said the national identification system will be implemented someday, and that New Mexico must obey it to avoid financial penalties and chaos. Martinez for years has said that state driver’s licenses would not be acceptable identification to board airplanes under the federal Real ID Act.
Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe group that wants the licensing law to remain intact, said the governor and Pacheco were using scare tactics.
“Only 21 states are in full compliance with Real ID, and some of them give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants,” Diaz said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security repeatedly has delayed enforcement of the Real ID Act. It recently issued a new schedule of deadlines, but enforcement at airports would not begin until at least 2016.
Diaz said a rebellion against the federal law by two dozen states means Real ID may never take effect.
State Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said he sides with the governor because the New Mexico licensing law encourages fraud.
Illegal immigrants from Poland traveled from Chicago to New Mexico in hopes of obtaining driver’s licenses, Gallegos said. He cited the Poles’ attempt at fraud as just one example of problems caused by the law.
But Gallegos, who works as a superintendent of a road construction company, said he agreed that immigrants were critical to New Mexico’s labor force.
“Not many people want to do asphalt work at 340 degrees,” he said.
He said his company generally hired Mexican nationals with work visas, then tried to help them maintain a lawful presence in New Mexico so they could continue working.
At the rally, Leticia Mendoza, who owns an Italian restaurant in Hagerman, said she had a question for the governor.
“How does taking licenses away from immigrants help people like me start and grow small businesses? … We need a vision for New Mexico, not fear-mongering,” she said.
Mendoza, 44, said she became a U.S. citizen in 2005. She said she and her husband employ about 15 people at their restaurant.