Suit: NM worker fired over driver’s license rules

Jan 13, 2012, 12:00 AM

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – A former New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division employee wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish to non-English-speaking foreign nationals seeking to renew their driver’s licenses and was fired when she complained about discrimination against Latino immigrants, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the suit in Santa Fe on behalf of Laura Montano of Albuquerque. The 39-year-old lost her job “after she voiced objections to a number of unfair, improper and discriminatory acts, policies, and practices,” the lawsuit said.

The firing violated the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, MALDEF said in the lawsuit. State officials, however, said Thursday that Montano was a temporary contract employee who was let go because of poor performance.

New Mexico is one of only three states _ the others are Washington and Utah _ where an illegal immigrant can get a driver’s license because no proof of citizenship is required. However, Utah’s permits cannot be used as government ID cards.

Gov. Susana Martinez has pressed lawmakers twice to repeal the law allowing those in the country illegally from obtaining state driver’s licenses. The governor has said she wanted state lawmakers to revisit the issue during the next legislative session, which begins next week.

Thursday’s lawsuit comes as state workers work to carry out a Martinez administration initiative to check residency requirements of some immigrants with New Mexico driver’s licenses. A state judge has blocked the “Foreign National Residency Recertification Program” pending the outcome of another lawsuit brought by MALDEF that challenges the constitutionality of the program.

MALDEF staff attorney Rebecca Couto said Montano was told not to speak Spanish to foreign nationals or to translate English documents during interviews to prove residency requirements.

“Some immigrants would come in with huge files, sometimes 250 pages,” Couto said. “She wasn’t able to tell them which documents she needed, so they left without licenses.”

Montano said she was a temporary employee who began working at the department in July and was hoping to gain a permanent job with the division.

“I quickly learned that the way the DMV was putting into practices the governor’s residency recertification program made us treat certain groups of Mexicans differently,” Montano said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, which seeks back pay and damages.

Montano’s account fits squarely with what Somos Un Pueblo Unido has been hearing from immigrants around the state, said Marcela Diaz, executive director of the Santa Fe-based immigrant advocacy group.

“We have known for a long time that this particular program was a farce,” Diaz said. “It wasn’t really meant to do anything other than forward a political agenda that includes taking away driver’s licenses from immigrants who live and work and pay taxes in our state.”

Montano worked on the residential certification program for around two weeks, said Demesia Padilla, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the MVD. Bilingual documents and materials were used in the program, she added.

“She demonstrated poor work performance and unprofessional conduct that detracted from the professionalism that was a hallmark of the way the program was run _ including our emphasis on bilingual materials, bilingual call center representatives, and bilingual employees at the recertification office,” Padilla said in a statement.

Thursday’s lawsuit contained factual errors and was filed by “a political special interest group advancing baseless claims in their quest to defend a policy of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants that most New Mexicans find to be indefensible,” Padilla said.


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - Hells Angels founder Ralph "Sonny" Barger and his wife Sharon are shown after his release on...
Associated Press

Sonny Barger, figurehead of Hells Angels, dies at 83

LIVERMORE, Calif. (AP) — Sonny Barger, the leather-clad figurehead of the notorious Hells Angels motorcycle club, has died. He was 83. Barger’s death was announced on his Facebook page late Wednesday. “If you are reading this message, you’ll know that I’m gone. I’ve asked that this note be posted immediately after my passing,” a posting […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone park bison

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — For the second time in three days, a visitor to Yellowstone National Park was gored by a bison, park officials said Thursday. A 71-year-old woman from West Chester, Pennsylvania and her daughter inadvertently approached the bison Wednesday as they were returning to their vehicle at a Yellowstone Lake trailhead. […]
13 hours ago
The New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 in New York. Americans with stock portfolio...
Associated Press

From stocks to crypto, a punishing six months for investors

Americans with stock portfolios or retirement investment plans would likely prefer to forget the last six months. The S&P 500, Wall Street’s broad benchmark for many stock funds, was on pace Thursday afternoon for a 20% loss through the end of June after starting the year at an all-time high. It’s the worst start to […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Texas police: 4 migrants killed in smuggling attempt

ENCINAL, Texas (AP) — Four migrants died Thursday and three other people were injured in a highway crash in Texas that authorities described as another fatal human smuggling attempt during a tragic week near the U.S.-Mexico border. The crash happened in Encinal, a small town where a tractor-trailer carrying migrants passed through Monday before ending […]
13 hours ago
FILE - School-choice advocate Ellen Weaver smiles at the Statehouse on March 7, 2022, in Columbia, ...
Associated Press

Education leader race features qualification questions in SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A conservative think tank CEO who promises to fight against critical race theory and supports giving children public money for scholarships to private schools would appear to be a heavy favorite in November to be elected the new leader of schools in conservative South Carolina. But Ellen Weaver has what could […]
13 hours ago
FILE - Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey La...
Associated Press

Iran says it’s ready for new talks with US on nuclear deal

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran said Thursday it is ready for new indirect talks with the United States to overcome the last hurdles to revive its tattered 2015 nuclear deal with major powers amid a growing crisis over the country’s atomic program. Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told the U.N. Security Council that the […]
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Suit: NM worker fired over driver’s license rules