As the national debate over immigration reform rages, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish says she honestly doesn’t know what should be done about the millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States illegally.
Republican Susana Martinez, on the other hand, says Washington should create a legal immigration process for those who are currently in the country illegally, but she opposes “amnesty that rewards those who have broken the law with a special pathway to citizenship that allows them to cut to the front of the immigration line.”
“In principle, I believe we need a legal immigration process for those who are in this country now and wish to stay here that is practical, while at the same time does not invite the next wave of illegal immigrants,” Martinez said.
Denish, while not taking a stance on the issue, said she recognizes the “heightened passions this issue inflames,” and said “divisive language and pure partisanship must be removed from the debate in favor of reaching bipartisan middle ground on this issue.”
The statements came in response to a detailed series of questions I asked on national border security and immigration policy. I felt it was important to understand how both candidates would approach national policy because whoever is elected will have a great deal of influence, as a border state governor, over the immigration reform debate in Washington.
Here are the questions I asked:
- What steps do you believe the United States needs to take to secure the border?
- What steps do you believe the United States must take to reform its legal immigration system?
- Should the United States allow the millions of people who are currently here illegally to stay, or should there be an active effort to seek them out and deport them?
- If they should be allowed to stay, what requirements should be placed on their gaining citizenship or legal status?
- If they should be deported, how would the United States in practicality make that happen?
I qualified the questions by telling the candidates I was looking for specifics on national immigration policy, not state issues such as allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and college scholarships.
“First, I believe we are well past the time for a national debate on immigration reform and border security. I am on the record supporting a comprehensive federal immigration reform policy that does two things: secures our borders and addresses undocumented workers in a way that is focused on facts, not fear.
“I support stronger border controls and the use of the National Guard to help patrol the border. I also propose making strong investments in the State Police, including the creation of a highly trained unit tasked with investigating border crime and augmenting the efforts of local law enforcement to make New Mexicans safer. I also support greater investment in and use of communications technologies to allow better coordination across jurisdictions.
“In addition, I would work with the federal delegation to explore the creation of a national border safety and security training center in the Boot Heel located near Deming and Lordsburg. This training center would not only have the potential to create jobs locally in those communities, it would also be a national center of excellence for best practices on border security.
“With regard to undocumented workers, I recognize the heightened passions that this issue inflames. I frankly do not have an answer about what to do with the millions of undocumented immigrants already here. But I do believe the way we are approaching the debate so far is not conducive to creating reasoned public policy.
“Cooler heads must prevail. Divisive language and pure partisanship must be removed from the debate in favor of reaching bipartisan middle ground on this issue. But most important, all stakeholders – including states and local governments – must be a part of the discussion and creation of the solution.”
“The federal government should lead on the issue of immigration reform, but they have not. While the president has called for comprehensive immigration reform and offered some vague principles, he has yet to propose a detailed plan.
“First and foremost, we have to secure the border and stop the flow of illegal immigration. It is not only dangerous, but also costly to our state. Each year, illegal immigration costs New Mexico millions. That is simply far more than we can afford in these times of extraordinary budget deficits and as more New Mexico families and small businesses are finding themselves in very difficult economic circumstances.
“Securing our border includes more boots on the ground and greater use of technology that allows us to monitor portions of the border which are extremely difficult to navigate. It is important that federal, state, and local law enforcement continue to work closely together to help secure our borders. The border security portion of immigration reform is critical, because no immigration plan can work if we have a porous border. That’s why border security must be accomplished first.
“When it comes to immigration, we must continue to embrace our rich cultural heritage in New Mexico that welcomes legal immigrants. I strongly encourage the federal government to seriously debate and develop thoughtful solutions that not only embraces this heritage, but also respects our laws.
“In my opinion, the solution does not rest with amnesty that rewards those who have broken the law with a special pathway to citizenship that allows them to cut to the front of the immigration line. In principle, I believe we need a legal immigration process for those who are in this country now and wish to stay here that is practical, while at the same time does not invite the next wave of illegal immigrants. Simply legalizing every illegal immigrant in the country, as some have proposed, will only undermine our legal immigration process.
“Policies that we implement here in New Mexico are important to the overall effort to stop illegal immigration nationally. We must stop promoting policies that attract illegal immigrants to the state, such as driver’s licenses, and we must end sanctuary policies.
“There is a clear difference between myself and Diane Denish on this issue. I want to revoke driver’s licenses that were issued by the state to illegal immigrants, while at the same time repealing the law that allows them to receive those licenses. Granting more licenses to illegal immigrants attracts more illegal immigrants to the state and is not pragmatic. There have been documented cases of criminals who come here illegally and obtain driver’s licenses and Denish would allow these illegal immigrants to keep their licenses. Denish has only made vague promises to change the current law.
“A truly comprehensive immigration policy means federal and state government work in concert. It’s time for New Mexico to step up to the plate and do its job, which has not happened for the last eight years.”
You can read more about what both candidates have said about allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses here, here and here. The one difference I found in reading those articles is on the issue to which Martinez refers: Denish wants to end the practice going forward, while Martinez wants to do that and also revoke licenses that have already been obtained by undocumented immigrants.