New Mexico Bill Would Allow Undocumented Students to Obtain Certifications

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A bill currently making its way through New Mexico’s legislature would have a significant impact on both the state’s undocumented population and economy as a whole. The bill, which has passed both the Senate Public Affairs and Judiciary committees, would allow individuals without documents or who are otherwise unauthorized to work in the U.S. to obtain professional licenses and certifications.

Jazmin Irazoqui-Ruiz is an attorney for the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center who’s been working to bring the legislation forward. She testified in support of the bill as both a lawyer and DACA recipient.

Currently, undocumented students, including DACA recipients and those who are not legal permanent residents or citizens, can enroll in licensure programs, colleges and universities without documentation, but they aren’t able to pursue careers post-education — often living in uncertainty as to whether they’ll be able to find a job without licenses or certification.

“New Mexico is at risk of losing thousands of young professionals who are entering into the education, medical, legal, social work and other fields,” Irazoqui-Ruiz told the Public Affairs committee. “We have a large number of qualified unlicensed professionals who cannot contribute to NMs economy and workforce.”

Professionals like her twin sister, Yazmin, who is currently enrolled at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and is set to graduate in May. Yazmin wrote that she pursued a health care career because of her mother, who gave up practicing medicine in Mexico so their family could come to the U.S. and pursue better opportunities. Yazmin also testified in support of the bill.

“Now as I reach my graduation date, I face the uncertainty of whether I will be able to provide medical care to New Mexicans, and I’m not alone in this,” Yazmin told Senate committee members.

Jazmin testified that by 2030, New Mexico will have the eighth-highest physician shortage in the nation. She also noted that the state invests about $13,000 per student from kindergarten through high school — but that New Mexico is currently making such educational investments without being able to retain the talent or reap the rewards of students graduating and pursuing careers in these professions.

New Mexico ranks among the top 10 U.S. states with the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants. A 2016 analysis by the New Mexico legislature estimated that undocumented immigrants make up 10 to 15 percent of the state’s workforce. A 2018 Pew Research report estimated that 5.6 of jobs in New Mexico, in 2014, were held by those without work authorization. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, immigrants make up 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, and roughly 11 percent of them are undocumented. Twelve states, including more conservative ones like Arkansas and Nebraska, have enacted similar legislation to allow work authorization for professional licenses.

“This is a historic movement for our immigrant youth,” bill sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez wrote on Twitter.

Kaley LaQuea is an award–winning print and digital journalist who’s been creating content since 2008. She’s passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with caffeine and two cats: Totoro and Mononoke.