They say driver's license law for illegal immigrants is humane
Stricken with cancer, Cesar Quesada said the driver's license law helped him and his family
New Mexico’s three Catholic bishops said Wednesday they support the state law granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and they asked for a compromise bill that would keep it on the books.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who wants to repeal the licensing law, made no mention of the controversy in her speech at the bishops’ annual legislative breakfast.
Martinez instead focused on state-mandated retentions of third-graders who do not read proficiently. Education reform, rather than driver’s licenses, may be her signature proposal of the 60-day legislative session that began Tuesday.
With Martinez sitting nearby, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe brought up what he called “the famous issue of the driver’s licenses.” Sheehan said the humanity of licensing undocumented immigrants often was lost in the controversy about it.
He read a letter from a boy named Cesar Quesada, who had cancer for 11 of his 17 years.
Quesada, a resident of the United States since age 3, said the licensing law enabled his parents to drive him lawfully to his treatments for chemotherapy in Albuquerque. He underwent eight rounds of chemo and 17 surgeries.
The privilege of their being able to drive made his life a bit easier, the boy wrote. He said he knew that some might abuse the licensing law, but said it helped his family and others.
Sheehan, right, said he met Quesada and gave him what amounted to last rites. The boy died in September.
Sheehan said the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops favors a compromise licensing bill, something the state Senate’s Democrat majority has pushed for the last two years.
It would tighten the law in hopes of reducing fraud but keep intact the basic framework that enables illegal immigrants with proper identification to obtain driver’s licenses.
Joining Sheehan in calling for the compromise bill were Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of the Diocese of Las Cruces and Bishop James S. Wall of the Diocese of Gallup.
The Legislature in 2003 approved the law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Martinez campaigned on repealing it.
In the last two legislative sessions, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the law, but the Senate instead favored revising it.