New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, has emerged as a Republican voice for moderation on immigration policy.
Early Life in Texas:
Martinez was born on July 14, 1959 in El Paso, Texas, where her father was a deputy sheriff. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and in 1982 earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
Martinez settled in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the mid 1980s where she served as an assistant district attorney for the 3rd Judicial District. In 1992, then district attorney Greg Valdez fired Martinez, saying she mishandled two cases. One of them involved her husband, Chuck Franco, a law enforcement officer.
Beginning of a Political Career:
Martinez ran for the 3rd Judicial district attorney seat in 1996 as a Republican and won with about 60% of the vote. She was re-elected three times. Until 1995, she had been a member of the Democratic Party. Martinez served 14 years as district attorney in Dona Ana County, from 1997 to 2011.
In 2010, she ran for governor of New Mexico and defeated Democrat Diane Denish. Martinez ran on a platform that called for cutting the budget and securing the state’s border with Mexico.
Crackdown Against Illegal Immigrants as Governor:
One of Martinez’s first acts as governor was to sign an executive order rescinding New Mexico’s illegal immigrant sanctuary status and directing police to inquire about the immigration status of people arrested. The order reversed the policy of her predecessor, Bill Richardson.
“This order takes the handcuffs off of New Mexico’s law enforcement officers in their mission to keep our communities safe,” said Martinez. “The criminal justice system should have the authority to determine the immigration status of all criminals, regardless of race or ethnicity, and report illegal immigrants who commit crimes to federal authorities. Meanwhile, it is important that we safeguard the ability of victims and witnesses to report crimes to law enforcement officers without fear of repercussion.”
Martinez said police would not ask crime victims and witnesses about their immigration status, however. She has also vowed to overturn a state law that makes it possible for undocumented immigrants to get driver licenses.
Controversy and Calls for Republican Moderation:
Martinez’s hardline stand against illegal immigration opened the door to controversy in September 2011 when she admitted she did not know whether her paternal grandparents had entered the United States legally from Mexico. After researching her genealogy, Martinez released immigration documents that she said showed that her grandparents followed “common practices” of the time and arrived legally. But many critics believe her evidence is unconvincing and self-serving.
Since the controversy, Martinez has been outspoken in urging Republicans to soften their rhetoric and positions on immigration policy. She criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s support for “self-deportation,” saying the term had no meaning. Martinez said the party was driving away potential supporters with its harsh rhetoric and accommodation for the Tea Party.
She has also called for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a guest-worker program and a path to legal residency for undocumented youths. She urged Republicans to come up with a version of the DREAM Act. Martinez has expressed support for providing visas to many of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States if they pay penalties, learn English and go through the naturalization process.
"I absolutely advocate for comprehensive immigration reform," Martinez told Newsweek magazine. "Republicans want to be tough and say, 'Illegals, you’re gone.' But the answer is a lot more complex than that."