Court rules against GOP in dispute

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NM can withhold the names and addresses of illegal immigrants who get driver’s licenses

By Barry Massey

SANTA FE — The state can withhold the names and addresses of illegal immigrants and foreign nationals who get driver’s licenses in New Mexico, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday in a dispute over public records sought by the Republican Party.

The court concluded that Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration had properly redacted personal information, such as names and addresses of drivers, from documents provided to the state GOP in 2006 in response to a public records request about illegal immigrants who received driver’s licenses.

The court also upheld the administration’s use of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege as grounds for not releasing some materials.

The GOP had hoped to use the license information to check on possible voter fraud and whether illegal immigrants were registered to vote in New Mexico.

GOP spokeswoman Janel Causey said the party will review the court’s decision and then decide whether to challenge the ruling. One option is to ask the state Supreme Court to review the case.

The GOP submitted its request under the Inspection of Public Records Act after the Richardson administration announced in 2006 that it would require foreign nationals to provide additional identification before getting a New Mexico driver’s license.

The governor also had directed the state Motor Vehicle Division to audit records to determine whether licenses previously issued to foreign nationals were based on authentic documents. The GOP sought records related to that audit.

The state released about 150 pages of e-mails and other documents, but nearly all had information that was redacted.

The court said the state was correct in not disclosing the names and addresses of drivers because federal and state laws protect the privacy of information that could identify individuals.

The court made clear that executive privilege could be used as a legal reason for withholding documents although it’s not listed in the open records law as one of the exceptions to public disclosure.