Republican politicians erupted rhetorically the other day over a policy change, announced by Gov. Eliot Spitzer on September 21, making illegal immigrants eligible to obtain New York State drivers’ licenses. Some Democrats, and many of the State’s county clerks, concur with the opposition.
The governor’s executive decision removes a rule that had been adopted by his predecessor in the wake of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center catastrophe. The rule obligated applicants for driver’s license to prove, by way of a valid Social Security number or other evidence, that they are legal residents. Starting in December, foreign applicants “will provide a current foreign passport and other valid and verifiable documents to prove identity” to Motor Vehicles Department staff (www.ny.gov./governors/press) but need not be legal residents.
Coupled with the DMV policy change, the governor added, will be new “anti-fraud security measures.” These include fresh document scanning technology, a special document verification unit stuffed by trained specialists, and photo-comparison technology “to ensure the principle of ‘one person/one license’ is upheld.”
“Dangerous” and “absolutely absurd,” says Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (Republican of Columbia County) of the new dispensation. “Astounded and flabbergasted” is how Sen. Steven Saland (R, Poughkeepsie) describes his reaction. A “stunned” Peter Lopez, who represents GreeneLand in the State Assembly, says the decision “puts our communities at risk.” According to GreeneLand’s State Senator, James Seward, the Spitzer ruling is illegal as well as being “a disaster for our national security,” placing “every New Yorker at risk….” It’s “Border Line Insanity” says a Conservative Party advertisement. Under the headline “License to Kill: Eliot’s Passport to Terror,” the leader of Republicans in the State Assembly, James Tedisco, says the governor’s policy poses a “clear and present danger to the safety and security of our entire nation.” It is “equivalent,” says Sen. Vincent Leibell, to “telling our military to ‘turn off your sonar and radar’.” In the estimation of Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), the Spitzer plan amounts to allowing “terrorists to go unchecked.” (The quotes come from Press accounts recorded the Internet).
Kirsten Gillibrand, GreeneLand’s newly elected United States Representative and a Democrat, was reported in one newspaper as concurring with the critics. At this time of writing (Tuesday, Oct. 8) Seeing Greene’s calls for (dis)confirmation had not been returned. [ADDENDUM. Received on Thursday (10/11) was a letter, dated Oct. 9, confirming Representative Gillibrand’s opposition to the governor’s policy, as well as to “any proposal that will allow illegal immigrants to receive additional taxpayer-funded services.” Instead, “I support the REAL ID Act which will require individuals to show proof of citizenship in order to obtain a driver’s license” and “I believe that giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants is the wrong approach to improving our national security.”]
Governor Spitzer accuses those critics of trafficking in “the politics of fear and selfishness” at the expense of “common sense and responsibility.” Their “hysterical rhetoric” preys upon public fears although in fact their contentions are factually, legally, morally and ethically wrong. The new system will enhance national security as well as public safety. New York contains as many as a million illegal immigrants. “Thousands of undocumented, unlicensed and uninsured drivers [are now] contributing to increased accidents and hit-and-runs as well as higher insurance rates.” Some of those drivers, responding to the new policy, would apply for licenses, pay fees, meet the obligation to buy auto insurance, and establish in the process an identity record.
On October 3, a resolution denouncing the governor’s new rule was presented to the State’s county clerks, who preside over local offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Thirty of them, including GreeneLand’s Mary Ann Kordich, voted to disapprove, with three dissenting, three abstaining, and 16 not participating. Some of them, led by Saratoga County Clerk Kathy Marchione, say they will not implement the new DMV policy.
Twenty-nine of the protesting 30, the governor pointed out in a news media release, are Republicans; and their stand-pat policy, he contended, makes New York “less secure and our roads less safe.”
“The simple fact is, increasing access to driver’s licenses, tied to increased anti-fraud security measures, is good for public safety and good for homeland security.” Roads are “less safe” when people drive “without a license and without insurance…. It is unlicensed drivers—not immigrants—who are a threat to public safety.”
As for homeland security, the new rule will help, says the governor, since it will "bring an entire population of people into a database that, when necessary, can be used to help law enforcement track down criminals and terrorists.”
Last Sunday’s TimesUnion contained a “debate” on the DMV policy issue. Clashing evaluations were voiced by Brian O’Dwyer, a Manhattan lawyer and head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, and James Staudenraus, a leader of the Federation of American Immigrant Reform who was billed as an adviser to a group called 9/11 Families for a Secure America, a group that advances public policies to protect homeland security and public safety.
Mr O’Dwyer credits Governor Spitzer with “a rational response to the facts on the ground. The governor is reinforcing New York's traditional policies aimed at encouraging immigrants to seek police, health and school services without fear of being turned over to immigration authorities, regardless of the immigrant's legal status. That…controls crime, prevents epidemics and keeps immigrants from hiding their children in the shadows instead of sending them to school.”
Moreover. “we all benefit as well when the state encourages all drivers…to legally seek a driver's license, a process that requires passing a driving test and demonstrating an ability to understand the state's motor vehicle laws.”
Especially “offensive,” says Mr O’Dwyer, are “comments by those who suggest the governor's plan will undermine the fight against terrorism. To equate hard-working and productive undocumented immigrants with terrorists is the kind of broad brush bigotry that undermines New York's position as the capital of the world, where diversity should be embraced instead of shunned.
“Instead of criminalizing undocumented immigrants, we should be creating a path to legal residency and citizenship and bring them out of the shadows of economic and social exploitation.”
According to Mr Staudenraus, however, the Spitzer DMV policy “ignores anti-terrorist recommendations of the 9/11 Commission,” violates “the new federal driver’slicense law that sets uniform standards for states to issue licenses, “rewards and encourages illegal immigration,” “facilitates voter fraud through the Motor Voter law, “gives official ID to individuals we know nothing about” and “undermines federal immigration enforcement efforts.”
“Foreign terrorists covet a valid driver's license, because it helps them blend into our society.”
“When states suddenly allow illegal immigrants to get a license, DMV offices are flooded with applicants. Under pressure from a big backlog, homeland security will be compromised.”
The governor, says Mr Staudenraus, has “chosen to pull the pin on a political hand grenade that is entirely of his own making.” He proposes to aggravate instead of alleviating the present “illegal immigration crisis.” “Instead of…rewarding illegal aliens with a driver’s license,” Mr Spitzer “should promote sound policies that discourage illegal immigration.”
This stuff is obviously close to our hearts for obvious reasons. I tried to post my views on your blog site and I do not know if I was successful. Would you kindly review and paste my comments. Please see below.
Dear Dick et all.
Most local people who know my wife Sue and I, are aware that we spent 7 years and a huge amount of money, in order to obtain permanent residency here in New York. We are both fortunate in that we have the necessary academical qualifications and are deemed to be "of use" regarding the conservation of nationally important objects of decorative art.....
We are constantly told that "anyone can get into America, it's easy....."
It is certainly not easy. Without the sponsorship of a large corporate or even from a small but prominent company, it is in fact, virtually impossible to obtain green card status (permanent residency) by filing ones own petition with the Dept of Homeland Security. Contrary to popular belief, even with a Non Resident Alien Visa, one cannot obtain free medical care, social security benefits and without a social security number, one cannot get a drivers permit or open a bank account. You are not able to move freely throughout the employment market or even work in another company or even another State, without filing with immigration for another visa.
The critics have no idea what this is all about or just how difficult it really is, to come here legally, work and set up a new life. It is so hard to meet the criteria set by Homeland Security that I would dare to suggest that a vast majority of those illegal immigrants do not have the money or supposed skills to file for legal permanent residency. Making the system tougher gives people absolutely no reason to apply through legal channels for a Visa.
These people are therefore left with only 2 choices which are simply to stay in a country where it is impossible to sustain their families or themselves or to come here illegally and obtain false or stolen social security numbers and drivers licenses. The system is set and doomed to fail.
Lets all try to remember that many of these illegal immigrants are trying to support their families by working. Many of these people support ends of the employment market by doing jobs that nobody else wants to do. There is also clear evidence right under our noses that many unemployed people would rather shuffle up and down the streets all day, instead of carrying out low income work. Many of these "illegal immigrants" in contrast to the picture portrayed by our lovely President, are in fact, hard working, reliable, employable, honest and decent people who are far more useful to the country than these lazy worthless unemployable thugs that we see roaming around here at night.
Give these immigrants a chance to apply for legal status, drivers permits etc with a system that then has every one on record, who will then be as taxable and traceable as anyone else here and lets stop listening to this bullshit propoganda that is spread like a nasty decease by Mr Bush and his sheeplike muppets who would have us all believe that every bloody stranger is going to blow the place apart or poison us all.
Like many of the people living and working in this country, over 80 years ago, my grandfather, who is deceased, came to this country LEGALLY, through Ellis Island. He worked all his life to provide for his family.
The people that Mark and Governor Spitzer are trying to give driver's licenses to may very well also be hard workers who want nothing more to provide for their families.
The major difference between them and my grandfather: he came here LEGALLY, they came ILLEGALLY.
I have never had to apply for a green card or a temporary visa as I was born here, so I will not attempt to try to relate to that experience and I do not have any knowledge of how hard or easy it is to become a citizen or have temporary status.
I can tell you, however, that as someone who was born in this country, it is going to become more difficult for me to obtain or renew my license without a passport, than it is for an ILLEGAL immigrant! Now then, I do not see any logic in that! In fact, it infuriates me that I have to provide MORE documentation, than someone here ILLEGALLY!
Tell me how that is justified?
While I do not personally koow of Mark and his wife's struggles to attain permanent residency here, I can tell you, I do have a friend of mine whose wife also spent 7 years and countless dollars to obtain her green card.
I will tell you that I truly believe that it should be that hard to come into this this country. It should not be as easy as, sneak into the county at night, come to New York and get a a driver's license handed to you!
With all of the talk and debate about securing our borders, this flies right in the face of that!
I'm not going to say that all ILLEGAL immigrants are terrorists, but they are ILLEGAL, or did we forget that fact?
That is the biggest point of this whole debate that seems to be getting lost - they are here ILLEGALLY! They committed a crime and the Governor wants to reward them with driver's licenses! HELLO??
The Governor says that this will help reduce the amount of non-licensed drivers which will reduce hit and runs and non-insured drivers, thereby reducing insurance costs - let's look at this a little closer:
If the ILLEGAL immigrant is working so hard to send money back home for his/her family (and probably not paying taxes on it), are they really going to spend that money on car insurance? It's a GEICO commercial in the making!
Mark brings up the point about not being able to get free health insurance or social security benefits without having a social security card.
I have a social security card and I don't get free health insurance! Why should someone who is here ILLEGALLY? In fact, in order for me to qualify for free health insurance my wife and I would first have to practically liquidate all our assets and I would have to basically be jobless - please remind me why we should be providing FREE (i.e. your and my taxes are paying for it) health insurance to an ILLEGAL immigrant?
I have no problem with people coming to America and to New York LEGALLY that want to obtain a driver's license, get a job, work hard and provide for their families.
I do have a problem with providing ILLEGAL immigrants driver's licenses and making it easier for them to obtain a driver's license than someone here LEGALLY.
Finally, it doesn't matter your political views or affiliation. This policy is just wrong. Period.
As a matter of fact, I think that by injecting partisan politics into the debate, it detracts from integrity of the argument. No one likes name calling and insults. Let's keep the debate about the issue.
Angelo W. Amato
Dear Mark, Dick, et al,
I confess that when I first heard of the Governor's proposal (to license illegal aliens) I was taken aback, to say the least.
The world is an increasingly dangerous place (thank you, Mr. Bush) and these are emotionally charged issues.
However, the howling hordes on tv and in print who rail against Mr. Spitzer's decision -- many, no doubt, out of political expediency or knee-jerk fear/ignorance -- have not convinced me that the Governor is wrong. What's more, I believe Mr. Spitzer to be a highly intelligent and capable leader. That is why I voted for him. At the same time, the guy doesn't get a free pass.
What would help me come to a conclusion is discussion, informed opinions expressed with civility -- and more insights like those provided by Mark. There seems to be very little of the sort in the media, just hysteria.
And now, to peruse the NYT. Hope springs eternal!
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