Immigration has always been an ever-moving and volatile landscape—and 2016 will be no different. The staff of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center details below the top 5 immigration issues that we think will be the most important to New Mexico this year.
Another year, another attempt by Governor Susana Martinez to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Every year since taking office in 2010, Governor Martinez has tried to pass legislation repealing current law, under which citizens and immigrants alike—both documented and undocumented—can get licenses. The Governor, in her State of the State address last Monday, once again called for repeal, but this time supports a bill giving those who cannot prove lawful presence a driving privilege card. However, that bill requires undocumented immigrants to submit their fingerprints to the FBI and would also cause them to be singled out and discriminated against. It also does not permit U.S. citizens concerned about civil liberties or who just don’t want to stand in line at the MVD to opt out of a REAL ID compliant ID, which is essentially a national identification card. Will Governor Martinez be successful this time? Some type of legislation addressing driver’s licenses seems likely as the Governor’s misinformation about the 2005 REAL ID Act and our state’s non-compliance are causing confusion among New Mexicans. Governor Martinez and other anti-immigrant politicians have claimed that the state’s REAL ID non-compliance is due to issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, however, in 2015 the New Mexico Senate, with support from both parties, passed a two-tiered driver’s license system that complies with the REAL ID Act while also providing licenses for every state resident, regardless of immigration status. Governor Martinez opposed it. Legislators are expected to submit a similar proposal this year.
President Barack Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history. Despite declining deportations in the last few years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), initiated home raids against Central American women and children who were apprehended at the border with Mexico on or after May 1, 2014 and have deportation orders. Immigrant rights groups and even members of the President’s own party have criticized this approach, particularly because many of the Central American families are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries and haven’t had a fair chance to present their case for asylum. More alarming is that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson indicated in a statement that his department is willing to continue such tactics moving forward. In fact, raids may be expanded to include unaccompanied minors and women and children with removal orders from early 2014 as well.
In December last year, the Administration announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will use Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo to house more than 400 unaccompanied immigrant minors. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, custody of unaccompanied minors must be transferred from the Department of Homeland Security to HHS, and a 1997 court settlement mandates certain criteria that the government must meet in housing these children. Hopefully violations as egregious as those that immigrant families faced in the temporary prison in Artesia in 2014 won’t happen. Nevertheless, like the immigrants imprisoned in Artesia, the young immigrant children will likely face difficulty in obtaining legal services. Alamogordo is 90 miles from the nearest city that houses a nonprofit that can provide pro bono or low bono services to the children.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama announced two initiatives as part of his executive actions to shift immigration enforcement resources to high priority immigration violators. The initiatives, DACA+ (an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from 2012) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) were to be implemented in the first half of 2015, but Texas and 25 other states sued the federal government, claiming that the President overstepped his legal authority. Despite overwhelming support from the legal community that these initiatives were lawful, a conservative federal district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked them from being implemented. On Tuesday, January 19, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Now, advocates and more than 26,000 of New Mexico’s immigrants anxiously await a decision by the high court—which could come by the end of June 2016.
Immigration has been at the forefront of this year’s presidential campaign. All three Democratic presidential candidates have indicated that they would go even further than President Obama did with his executive actions in 2012 and 2014 and that they would end privately-owned immigration detention centers. On the other side, the Republican candidates have taken more varied positions. Some have called for mass deportations, questioned birth right citizenship, and support building a structure between the U.S. and Mexico to “stop” unauthorized migration, while others reject mass deportations and support other approaches to border security. Despite the divergent positions of the candidates, immigration as an issue in their campaigns will likely remain throughout the year—especially because the Supreme Court’s decision on President Obama’s executive actions is expected just a few months before the general election in November.