New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has fought hard to repeal a law in her state that gives undocumented immigrants driver's licenses. But in an interview with KLUZ-TV, the Univision affiliate in Albuquerque, the Republican governor said her paternal grandparents came into the country illegally.
In the interview, she said her grandmother died when her father was about 1, but she knows they "arrived without documents."
The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported the story in July. The paper found that 1930 Census records list "Martinez's paternal grandparents, Adolfo and Francisca Martinez, and [show] their citizenship status as 'AL' for 'alien,' the census-form indication for 'all foreign-born persons neither naturalized nor having first papers.'"
In her interview with KLUZ, the reporter asked if her grandfather would be considered "a threat against public safety," a charge that Martinez has made against undocumented immigrants in her state.
Martinez said that times were different when her grandparents entered the United States. Back, then, she said, people crossed the border freely. Now, she said, especially after Sept. 11, "we have to make sure people don't get a license using fake papers."
Local immigrant rights groups say the news is filled with irony.
The Associated Press spoke to a couple professors who focus on Mexican-American history. Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., a University of Houston history professor, told the AP the laws in the 1920s, when Martinez's grandparents came to the U.S., weren't much different than they are now.
And Lisa Y. Ramos, a Texas A&M University history professor, said most multigenerational Mexican Americans have family members with an "undocumented past." The AP adds:
In fact, then-Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., acknowledged in 2007 during a debate over a failed immigration bill that his mother was an illegal immigrant from Italy and was briefly detained by federal agents during World War II when he was a child. She eventually became a U.S. citizen.
But Ramos said the irony about Martinez's past is that she might not be governor of New Mexico today if her grandparents hadn't made the decision to enter the U.S. the way they did, when they did.
"She wouldn't be there if her grandfather, who was undocumented, hadn't come," Ramos said.
Martinez is the nation's first Latina governor. In that Santa Fe New Mexican profile, she's described as a determined woman who made it through law school and worked her way through the state legislature and into the governorship.
The driver's license issue was huge during the gubernatorial campaign. The New Mexican reports she pledged to introduce a bill to revoke the licenses of undocumented New Mexicans. In July, she said the state had randomly recalled 10,000 foreign nationals to "re-verify their New Mexico residency."
"We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. I swore to uphold the Constitution," Martinez told the paper.