ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Gov. Susana Martinez ordered the Motor Vehicle Department to send letters to 10,000 random undocumented immigrants who have obtained state driver's licenses to prove they still live in New Mexico.
More than 85,000 people without Social Security numbers have received New Mexico driver's licenses since 2003, when the legislature passed a law allowing illegal immigrants to apply for a driver's license.
"There were a large number of folks that shouldn't have received (a license)," said Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla.
The 10,000 people who receive the letters will have 30 days to schedule an in-person appointment and bring documents, such as bank statements, utility bills, lease agreements or pay stubs, that prove they live in New Mexico. If they no longer live in-state or don't show up for an appointment, Padilla said their licenses will be cancelled.
Padilla said it's a security issue.
"They're leaving New Mexico with a government-issued I.D., that gives them access to federal buildings and the ability to get on an airplane," said Padilla.
Martinez tried to repeal the 2003 law during this year's legislative session but failed. She vowed to revive the measure during the special session in September. Martinez said New Mexico has become a target for out-of-state criminals to come here to get a license.
Padilla said the number of fraud cases has been alarming.
"Thirty-five percent of our phone calls to make an appointment come from area codes from outside New Mexico," said Padilla. "We had one address used 60 times for a place of residence."
Padilla said the residency certification program is just an administrative fix. She said the real solution is to repeal the law altogether.
But many lawmakers and immigrant rights groups said the Martinez administration is capitalizing on a hot-button political issue.
"What are we making New Mexico safe from?" said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. "People who need jobs? This is ridiculous. From terrorists? (Martinez is) ludicrous."
Ralph Arellanes, New Mexico Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Martinez is playing "big sister" to instill fear in New Mexicans.
"Is it just the license issue or is there something else involved here?" said Arellanes. "If people get a license here, it's because they want to work here and they want to send their kids to school here."
Critics also said the program is a waste of money.
Padilla said ten temporary workers have been hired to verify residences. Three current MVD supervisors will oversee operations for an indefinite period of time, according to Padilla. A center has been set up at the Bank of the West building in downtown Albuquerque. Padilla said the MVD center should be up and running by July 25.
If the residency check finds an "alarming" number of people no longer live in New Mexico, Padilla said more illegal immigrants will be called in for questioning.
New Mexico and Washington are the only two states that still issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
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