Governor Martinez: Illegal Immigration Okay for Me, Not for You

New Mexico governor's own grandparents came to the U.S. illegally

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Players: Susana Martinez, New Mexico's Republican and Tea Party-backed Governor; Brett Wilkes, national executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based League of United Latin American Citizens and opponents of her bill

The Opening Serve: Governor Susana Martinez has been busy pushing bill HB18 of late. The bill would repeal a law that currently allows undocumented immigrants to register for driver's licenses--a measure passed by her Democratic predecessor. New Mexico is one of three states--including Washington and Utah--where undocumented immigrants can obtain driver's licenses. Martinez has run into resistance in trying to push the bill forward. Last week, Martinez confirmed that her grandparents were illegal immigrants. The AP reports that Martinez recently found out about her grandparents through the media's research of the 1930 census. "I know they arrived without documents, especially my father's father," Martinez said in an interview in Spanish with KLUZ-TV (translated via Reuters), the Albuquerque Univision affiliate. "What happened in the 1920's and 30's and what the law was at that time, immigration law, people came and went," said Martinez to KOB TV. "Frankly, I am an American citizen," said Martinez. "I have been elected governor and it is my job to do New Mexicans' jobs…to do what they're asking me to do…and that's what I'm doing. I'm fighting to repeal a law that makes people in our state unsafe…that makes our country unsafe."

The Return Volley: Reuters reports that her opponents have called the governor disgusting and hypocritical.  Brett Wilkes, national director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, was slightly more diplomatic. "Her grandparents shared the same story of many undocumented people. It's a sad day that the governor has chosen to turn her back on the same sacrifices she has benefited from," Wilkes told Reuters. "This is not the governor's finest hour." New Mexico Representative Ray Begaye told KOB that Martinez's grandparents were fair game in the debate. "You have folks that came in illegally from Mexico to El Paso or wherever, and then you have a governor that's saying let's get rid of 'em, send 'em home, so to speak, and that's a strong message," Begaye said. Martinez responded in an official statement, "It's unfortunate that some are choosing to personally attack the governor, but these tactics prove that supporters of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants have run out of legitimate defenses for a bad policy." The "bad policy" Martinez refers to is what she believes is a threat to national security. "Since that time [when her grandparents immigrated to the U.S.] we've suffered a lot. Simply look at what happened on September 11," she said in the KLUZ-TV interview. "We have to ensure that when the people come to the United States people aren't coming to New Mexico to receive a license with false documents." Democratic state Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino told Reuters the only thing that had changed was the perception of immigrants. "The rules have not changed," said Ortiz y Pino. "What changed is this need to find some enemy as the cause to our problems."

What They Say They're Fighting About: Whether or not undocumented immigrants should be able to get driver's licenses.

What They're Really Fighting About: Governor Martinez, her grandparents and her politics. Martinez sees her grandparents' actions as a non-issue and a desperate last resort for her critics. Her opponents say that Martinez being the granddaughter of undocumented immigrants is fair game (consequently making her a hypocrite), considering the governor is pushing an anti-illegal immigrant agenda.

Who's Winning Now: Martinez's opponents. If your parents or grandparents are undocumented immigrants, it's probably best that you think twice about becoming a figure in the Tea Party and pushing a bill tough on similar undocumented immigrants. Martinez's team is now in a PR predicament--the media finding out about Martinez's grandparents before Martinez came forward just adds to their headache. The louder she campaigns for the bill, the louder her opponents will point out that they believe she's reaped the benefits of her grandparents' undocumented immigration--calling her values into question. But she can't remain a low profile if she wants to keep the Tea Party's and her political party's favor.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.