How Rumors Get Started: Gov. Martinez's Grandparents Were Not Illegal Immigrants

There are certain “types” of people who are just not allowed to be conservative. You know what I’m talking about. For example, a certain African American Supreme Court Justice will always be the subject of bilious contempt because he holds legal and constitutional views that differ from what a black public servant is expected to hold.

We saw this dynamic play out recently in the Washington Post’s vicious and sloppy attack on Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio is, of course, a quickly rising star in the Republican Party; one with broad – even national – appeal. Clearly the left knows the threat Sen. Rubio presents to its grip on Hispanic voters, so they felt it necessary to muddy him up with a shoddy news story questioning his family story.

Now come the attacks on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. The attacks on Martinez are much subtler than those on Sen. Rubio, but no less dangerous if left unanswered. They come in the form of a pervasive rumor about her family origins; a rumor that has been reported uncritically by the mainstream media, including the New York Times.

Here we have a popular and successful Latina politician with a bold, conservative agenda in an important swing state. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, there has to be a catch.

“Ms. Martinez, who grew up along the border, is also Mexican-American, with news reports since her election revealing that her paternal grandfather came to the United States as an illegal immigrant,” wrote Marc Lacey in a New York Times profile three months ago.

“…The New Mexican’s Sandra Baltazar Martínez reported recently, at least two of the governor’s grandparents also were [undocumented immigrants],” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican in a recent editorial.

Lest you be under any illusions about the nature and motives of these news items, bear in mind that Gov. Martinez wants to roll back certain of her predecessor’s policies regarding illegal immigration in New Mexico, most notably, a policy that allows illegal immigrants to secure drivers licenses. “The governor’s opponents have pointed to her immigrant grandparents as an example of why New Mexico should welcome illegal immigrants and continue to allow them to get a driver’s license,” reports the Associated Press.

Obviously, the stage is set for the media and her political rivals to paint Gov. Martinez as a hypocrite and a traitor to her people.

There’s only one problem: The story about Martinez’s grandparents is junk. The Governor’s grandparents were not U.S. citizens, but they were most certainly not illegal immigrants.

According to Barry Massey of the Associated Press:

The 1930 U.S. census has been cited in published reports as indicating the governor’s grandparents were illegal immigrants. However, the census only records they were not U.S. citizens at the time they were living in El Paso. The census used a code, “AL” to designate they were “aliens,” meaning they were not citizens and had not filed papers declaring their intent to become citizens. It does not indicate their immigration status or whether they were living in the United States legally, according to historians and immigration experts.

Two experts quoted in Massey’s story make it clear that Martinez’s grandparents lived well within the law at the time.

“There was no such thing as an undocumented immigrant during that time” in the American Southwest, said [immigration law expert and director of the Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance at the University of Houston Michael A.] Olivas, a Santa Fe resident. “There was no secure Mexican border and people came and went with no problem.”

The census lists 1910 as the year Martinez’s grandfather, Adolfo Martinez, immigrated to the U.S. He worked as a taxi driver and spoke English. Her grandmother, Francisca Martinez, came to the U.S. in 1915, according to the same census document.

Her grandparents had U.S. government permits to cross the border on several occasions, according to documents provided to the AP by the governor’s political committee. They were dated from 1908 through 1931, and several were issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s immigration service.

“So he understood the process and seemed to have followed the process,” the governor said of her grandfather.

Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., a history professor at the University of Houston and a noted scholar of Mexican-American history, said it wasn’t until a 1924 federal law outlined rules for immigrants with proper documents.

“But they did not apply the law to people from the Western Hemisphere,” said San Miguel. “It only applied to people from Europe, Africa and Asia, for example.”

Gov. Susana Martinez doesn’t fit into the box in which the mainstream media and the political left would like to contain her. So naturally, they will endeavor to bring her down. But the potentially damaging narrative about Gov. Martinez’s grandparents is a bogus myth.


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