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.”