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Driver's licences for immigrants spur debate

Published:Thursday | February 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM


Alejandro Altamirano from Durango, Mexico, has called New Mexico home for a dozen years, and it's where his two US-born daughters are being raised. But the 36-year-old dairy farmworker fears he will be forced into the shadows if he loses his driver's licence.

For years, New Mexico led in handing out driver's licences to people suspected of being in the country illegally. Now, legislation to stop the practice is gaining traction despite a trend sweeping through several states to offer driving privileges to everyone, regardless of their status.

Fresh off a political power shift, the Republican-led House of Representatives is poised to pass a measure repealing a 2003 law that made New Mexico one of the first states to offer licences to immigrants, regardless of status. However, the momentum may not matter, since Senate Democrats have vowed to fight the legislation.

The battle comes in a state with the nation's highest percentage of Latinos and the only Latina governor.

Proponents of the bill say polling indicates most New Mexicans want to reverse course and repeal the law. They argue it would help prevent fraud and bring the state into compliance with federal identification requirements.

Those who want to keep the law argue that working families stand to get hurt if it's repealed. They say other states that dole out licences are not running afoul of federal laws.