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King, Chandler tangle over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants
New Mexico should create two types of drivers’ licenses – one for American citizens and another for non-citizens, Attorney General Gary King said Wednesday.
New Mexico is one of three states in the U.S. to issue driver’s licenses to non-citizens, a status so controversial that both candidates in the New Mexico governor’s race support stopping the practice. King’s Republican opponent, Matt Chandler, the district attorney in the 9th Judicial District, meanwhile also has come out against the practice, saying that he’d work to repeal it law if elected.
But King, who is seeking re-election, struck a middle ground Wednesday, not supporting repeal but acknowledging that the law could be improved, which is where the two-tiered driver’s license idea came in.
“I think we do need to look at our laws in New Mexico and change them so that we make it very clear if we’re issuing driver’s licenses whether that person has passed a proof of citizenship or not to get that driver’s licenses,” King, a Democrat, said.
Encoding citizenship status on driver’s licenses for New Mexicans who are American citizens could offer up protection if they travel to Arizona, “where they will use driver’s licenses as proof of citizenship,” which currently could pose problems for New Mexicans, King said.
King was referring to Arizona’s tough immigration law, which has been challenged in court by the federal government.
Unlike King, Chandler believes the state’s policy of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants has few redeeming qualities.
“I think it creates a breeding grounds for crime,” Chandler said. “It attracts illegal immigrants to New Mexico to obtain a driver’s licenses.”
King and Chandler touted their opposing viewpoints Wednesday during a question-and-answer session at an Albuquerque forum sponsored by a coalition of advocates and providers who work to reduce domestic violence, sexual assault and date rape around the state.
Where the candidates stand
The issue of driver’s license for illegal immigrants surfaced when King and Chandler were asked where they stood on the state’s current law. Some domestic violence organizations support the practice because it improves the rate of domestic violence incidents reported in the immigrant community, they say. A victim is more apt to report an incident with a state-issued form of identification, they add.
While Chandler left little doubt as to his personal stance on the law, pinning King down was a bit harder. King initially deflected questions from reporters, saying “I don’t want to find my words used against me in court if I’m in court someday arguing for the validity of the law.”
After repeated questioning, however, King finally admitted that he likely would not vote for such legislation today if he were a state lawmaker.
“Under the current situation, where we are concerned about illegal immigrants, including, who knows whether they might be anarchists, or terrorists, or criminals or whatever, I probably would not vote for a bill that would allow non-citizens, non-residents to get a driver’s license,” King said.
What about non-citizens who are residents of the state, a reporter asked.
“I think on a current status I don’t think it’s a good idea. But I think that there are reasons that we do it. Who thinks that just because an illegal immigrant can’t get a driver’s license that they won’t drive a car in New Mexico.”
Whether New Mexico should issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants wasn’t the only issue over which Chandler and King squared off Wednesday.
Human trafficking and raising taxes
The two men also tangled over how vigilant King’s office has been on human trafficking. His office has filed charges in three human trafficking cases, King told the crowd of onlookers.
Chandler quipped that he didn’t know if three indictments was much to brag about. “We would have more than three cases … this is about action more than words,” the Republican said.
“That is three more human trafficking cases than anyone else in New Mexico,” King retorted. “It is sort of interesting for him to criticize me for human trafficking cases.”
Repeatedly Chandler, the District Attorney in the 9th Judicial District for the past six years, stressed his experience as a prosecutor and attempted at times to paint King as a novice when it came to prosecutorial experience.
“I had more experience working with the victims in the first month as an assistant District Attorney than my opponent has,” Chandler said.
“He almost always mischaracterizes my experience,” King retorted.
The Democratic incumbent said he spent several years in private practice, including working as a guardian for abused children. For a short period, he said, he also worked as a domestic violence hearing officer in Torrance County.
On one issue the two men agreed: giving New Mexico counties the authority to raise local alcohol excise taxes to help fund domestic violence prevention, provided local voters approved the tax hike first.
Alcohol abuse often accompanies domestic violence, and one questioner wanted to know if they both supported raising the state’s liquor excise tax.
That’s when King suggested broadening a pilot project that already allows a couple of northwestern New Mexico counties to raise local liquor excises taxes if voters approve it first.
“Right now it’s only applicable in McKinley County and I think San Juan County,” King said.
King said his office has filed legislation in the past to give other counties the power to do that, but so far it hasn’t cleared the Legislature.
Chandler agreed to the idea conceptually.
“Local options and smaller government is an effective way to run a community and if local communities want to put it up to voters that’s a sufficient option,” Chandler said.