One lawmaker says driver's license law all about humanity
He was the commissioner of Major League Baseball when 15 of the 16 team owners voted to keep black players off the same field as whites.
In a stunning act of courage, Chandler, right, overturned his bosses’ decision. He opened the way for Jackie Robinson to become the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman for the 1947 season.
Robinson smashed the color barrier, becoming the first black man in the modern era to play in the major leagues. Chandler supplied the sledgehammer.
Chandler later explained why he bucked the baseball owners: “I thought someday I’d have to meet my maker and he’d say, ‘What did you do with those black boys?’ ”
At the Capitol, a lanky raconteur, state Rep. Miguel Garcia, approaches his job in the style of Happy Chandler.
Garcia, right, D-Albuquerque, is the legislator who fights hardest and unapologetically to retain the 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants living in New Mexico to obtain a state driver’s license.
The licensing law did not attract much attention until 2010, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez promised to repeal it. Martinez won the election and has since been battling the Democrat-controlled Legislature over driver’s licenses.
She says the licensing law is dangerous, that it invites fraud and leaves the state vulnerable to other crimes. She wants it wiped off the books.
Garcia fights back without raising his voice.
Yes, there are con men who try to defraud the state, he says. But mostly the driver’s license law helps people because it is enlightened and humane.
With it, he says, people doing jobs that Americans will not touch drive to work without fear, earn a paycheck, support their family and help fuel the state’s economy.
Some who benefit from the licensing law are children born in the United States, Garcia says. Others arrived as babies, brought along by immigrant parents.
Last week, as the license fight flared again, Garcia publicly read a letter from a boy named Cesar Quesada. Cesar, the son of an organic farmer, arrived in the United States at age 3.
In a letter to the archbishop of Santa Fe, Cesar said he appreciated the driver’s license law because it enabled his parents to drive him to myriad doctors’ appointments and treatments for the cancer that he lived with for 11 years.
Cesar underwent 17 surgeries and eight separate rounds of chemotherapy. He died last September at age 17, but not before thanking Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan for being a tireless advocate for the licensing law.
Garcia says Cesar’s short life exemplifies the good but forgotten side of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. The law helped a farmer and his sick boy, and it helps untold thousands of others each day, he said.
The lobbyist for New Mexico’s chile industry says Mexican nationals are
the labor force harvesting the state’s famous green peppers. The average
age of these laborers is 60.
Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, has seen their cars parked next to the fields as they harvest a crop precious to the state’s economy and image.
Archuleta, right, a freshman legislator, stands with Garcia on the licensing law. Archuleta said he would not support a repeal, but he is open to a compromise that would help curb fraud while maintaining the essential framework of the law.
Both legislators have listened to every counterargument, especially the most pitched battle cry: “Illegal is illegal. What part of that don’t you understand?”
They say life is not so simple, that by helping immigrants who help New Mexico businesses, the law the governor denounces is putting money in the state treasury.
“People are going to drive to work whether they have licenses or not. I look at it as a public safety issue,” Archuleta said.
Those with licenses have to learn the rules of the road and they are listed in police databases, he said.
As for Garcia, he cares not about polls that say the licensing law is wildly unpopular with state residents. He knows he will never persuade the opposing side, but he is undaunted.
Like Happy Chandler all those years ago, Garcia believes a stand that can be unpopular also can be right.