NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer has kicked up yet another firestorm with his latest genius idea, to issue drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens:
All New Yorkers are now entitled to earn a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status, under an administrative policy change Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced Friday.
The controversial change was hailed by supporters as a necessary measure to make roads safer, increase the number of insured drivers and protect immigrants’ rights. Opponents said it will threaten homeland security and could put driver’s licenses in the hands of terrorists.
Reversing a post-9/11 state policy that made it impossible for undocumented workers to obtain licenses, Spitzer and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner David Swarts said Social Security numbers no longer will be required to obtain a license. A passport or other valid identification can be used instead. The initiative is aimed at identifying unlicensed drivers on the roads. The DMV estimates that could include 10,000 people.
“I applaud the DMV and Commissioner Swarts for making this common-sense change that deals practically with the reality that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live among us and that allowing them the opportunity to obtain driver licenses in a responsible and secure manner will help increase public safety,” Spitzer said in a statement.
New anti-fraud measures will be implemented to increase the security of licensing, officials said. The DMV will use new document verification technology, photo-comparison tools, and staff specially trained in foreign-source identifications. People need to prove New York residency to obtain a license.
The Social Security number requirement was implemented in 1995 as part of an effort to punish parents for not paying child support. In 2002, the state began allowing people ineligible for Social Security numbers to apply for licenses. A subsequent administrative policy change required proof of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration, a document only available to legal immigrants, thus making it impossible for illegal immigrants to get licenses.
Unsurprisingly, this issue has unified New York’s Republicans and Conservatives, ranging from Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani to State Senate President Joe Bruno to erstwhile Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg to the state’s bumptious Conservative Party:
“Today’s directive to the Department of Motor Vehicles to no longer require provide Social Security numbers, or proof that they are eligible for Social Security cards, will certainly make it easier for illegal immigrants to obtain valid identification to blend into society,” said Michael Long, state chairman of the Conservative Party.
The State Senate isn’t just talking, either, and it looks as if it may have the votes to force a showdown with the ham-handed Spitzer:
In an effort to stop what they deem an ill-advised order from Governor Spitzer that could jeopardize the safety and security of New Yorkers, the New York State Senate will act on legislation next month to prohibit the state from issuing drivers licenses to illegal aliens. The legislation would require a social security number or proof of authorized presence in the United States to obtain a New York State drivers license.
“The Senate has made its’ opposition to the Governor’s plan very clear,” Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. “The Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would have prevented illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses and we will act on a new bill when we return for a special session next month to stop the Governor’s plan. We need the Assembly to join us. We need the Speaker to bring the Assembly back into session, pass our bill, and deliver a strong message to the Governor that the people of this state oppose his plan and it must be stopped.”
The legislation the Senate will take up next month is similar to bills proposed by Senator Frank Padavan (Queens) that would require applicants for a drivers license or non-driver identification card, to submit satisfactory proof to the Department of Motor Vehicles that the applicant’s presence in the United States is authorized under federal law (S.74); and legislation (S.6250), passed by the Senate in June, sponsored by Senator John Flanagan (R-C, East Northport), that would require the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to obtain proof from any applicant for a drivers license or nondriver identification card who cannot provide a social security number, that they are ineligible for a social security number. The Assembly did not act on this bill.
More here from a Staten Island Republican, and here for more from Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola, who insists he will not follow the new policy:
“I’ve been with the DMV 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things. This is the worst,” Merola said of the governor’s plan. “My stomach is in knots. I just don’t understand how I can issue a driver’s license to a person who can’t prove they’re here legally. If they want to put ‘undocumented’ across the top of it, that would be just fine, but they went just the opposite.
“Osama bin Laden could be standing in my lobby and I’d have to give him a driver’s license.”
He said licenses issued by his office after Monday no longer have a temporary stamp that show license holders are not permanent, legal residents meaning the licenses are good for eight years though the driver may no longer be legally in the U.S. by then.
After Pataki’s 2002 order, Merola said, county clerks collected Social Security numbers from drivers’ license applicants and checked the numbers against Social Security records. They found 120,000 cases of bogus Social Security numbers that were used to apply for driving privileges.
Giuliani, who has been under fire from Mitt Romney for policies tolerant of illegal aliens while Mayor but who has been running on a platform of requiring better identification of those who enter the country legally, ripped the plan:
“I think it would just create an even further level of fraud and confusion in what is already a very confusing picture,” said Mr. Giuliani . . .
“The reality is there is so much traffic in false documents that creates part of this problem,” he said. “It is the reason I am so much in favor of a tamper-proof ID card for people who come in from foreign countries and want to work here.”
Like Mayor Giuliani, I’m sympathetic to the problem of how you deal with a large illegal alien population without exacerbating the problem by having – in this case – scores of uninsured drivers on the roads. But so long as the drivers’ license is used as a proxy identification card for broader purposes (which it will be in practice for some time despite federal efforts to improve on the situation), licenses that do not in any way reflect on their face that they were issued without proof of legal residency will only make the situation worse. Spitzer seems to have forgotten yet again that New York is particularly vulnerable to terrorism:
Certain facts about terrorist operations are beyond dispute, and as the 9/11 Commission noted, one is that terrorists cannot function without I.D. The sixty-three authentic U.S. driver’s licenses the 9/11 terrorists held (from Virginia, Florida, Maryland and other states) permitted them to blend in as ordinary U.S. citizens; permitted them to rent cars, open bank accounts, rent hotel rooms, obtain credit cards, etc. They used them when purchasing flying lessons. And on the morning of 9/11, their U.S. licenses were the “valid ID” that got them on board the planes they used as missiles.
Those authentic, U.S. issued drivers licenses were the tools that allowed the terrorists to hide in plain sight among millions of other illegal aliens and to obtain all the goods and services they needed to plan, rehearse, finance and carry out their attacks.
Naturally, Spitzer’s allies on the Left are lining up behind him – the AFL-CIO, the NY Civil Liberties Union, and of course, the NY Times. These are, of course, the same folks who invariably line up to protest requirements that even the most basic forms of identification – such as, yes, the drivers’ license – be presented before you can vote (an issue now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court). All of which suggests the real priority here, which is to find new and different ways to enlarge the Left’s political base outside of the pool of U.S. citizens.