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Spitzer opens roads to illegal immigrants

By fall 2008, illegal immigrants in New York State will be able to obtain driver’s licenses, Governor Eliot Spitzer and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) have announced.
Through an administrative policy change outlined in a statement released Friday, September 21 by Spitzer’s office, immigrants applying for licenses will no longer need to present a letter of ineligibility - a statement from the Social Security Administration verifying legal immigrant status - in lieu of a Social Security Number (SSN).
Under the existing policy, adopted by former governor George Pataki, anyone applying for a driver’s license must provide either a SSN or a letter of ineligibility.
Under Spitzer’s policy, immigrants applying for driver’s licenses need only check a box on their application stating their ineligibility for a SSN, and may provide foreign passports and other valid documents to prove identity.
Spitzer said the policy “deals practically with the reality that thousands of undocumented immigrants live among us and that allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses…will increase public safety” by ensuring that the vast majority of drivers have passed driver’s tests.
The new policy will also lower insurance rates, said the State Department of Insurance (DOI). With fewer uninsured motorists on the road, insurance coverage for uninsured drivers will drop 34 percent, estimated DOI, saving New Yorkers $120 million per year.
The policy is not without its critics, however.
Spitzer claims the plan will strengthen homeland security by providing law enforcement with a means of tracking thousands of illegal immigrants. State Senator Frank Padavan, however, believes Spitzer’s policy would only hurt homeland security, and has already announced a bill to counter it.
“All the individuals involved in 9/11 were running around with driver’s licenses which they used for all kinds of things - enrolling in flight schools, opening accounts, you name it,” said Padavan. “That was obviously a detriment.”
Padavan called the policy “a step in the wrong direction,” and said his bill, if passed, would require immigrants to show documentation proving their legal status in the United States.
To address security concerns associated with the new policy, the DMV will enact security measures to verify that immigrants are providing legitimate documents. Identification requirements will be steepened, new personnel will be trained to verify foreign documents, and the DMV will install photo comparison technology to prevent applicants from obtaining more than one license under different names.
The first phase of the new policy, effective immediately, is open only to immigrants who had previous licenses but were not able to get them renewed. Prior to 1995, no SSN was required to obtain a license, so many immigrants who had licenses were not able to renew them after the SSN requirement was adopted by Pataki.
Phase 2 of the policy, to begin in roughly eight months, will be open to all immigrants.
The policy has gained undisputed support from immigration groups throughout the state, including the Immigration Coalition of New York (ICNY).
“This will make a drastic impact on the lives of immigrants,” said Milan Bhatt, Worker’s Rights Advocacy Coordinator at ICNY. “People will be able to drive to work, drive to pick up their kids, where before they couldn’t. We hope this serves as a national model to states across the country grappling with this issue.”

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