Spitzer drops immigrant license plan

Saying that “Leadership is also about listening to the public,” Governor Eliot Spitzer announced “I am withdrawing my proposal” to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented persons in New York State.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Spitzer, standing with several New York congressional Democrats, blasted “the failed U.S. immigration policy” which has resulted in “one million undocumented immigrants in New York State, many of whom are driving on our roads.”
Saying that “It would have enabled us to keep our upstate economy viable, meet the demands of federal travel requirements, make our roads safer and bring more New Yorkers into the system, helping law enforcement officials fight crime and terrorism,” Spitzer conceded that his plan was “a roadblock” to other pressing issues facing the state.
Reaction, both pro and con, was almost immediate.
Mayor Bloomberg, whose opposition to the license plan had been called ethically, morally and legally wrong by Spitzer, was gracious and conciliatory.
“Whether or not New Yorkers agree with this particular proposal, I am glad we have a governor who is trying bold solutions to big problems. That said, there comes a time when the wisest move is to focus on different challenges, and I congratulate Governor Spitzer for demonstrating that today,” Bloomberg said.
Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition said, “Governor Spitzer’s announcement today that he is abandoning his driver’s license effort represents a huge lost opportunity to improve the lives of immigrant New Yorkers and enhance public safety.” Hong had been an enthusiastic supporter of the first plan.
“The silver lining here is that the governor is also backing off on adopting federal Real ID standards, which pose a serious threat to Americans’ civil liberties,” Hong said.
Spitzer’s first “proposal” came on September 21, when he announced that the policy of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was changed, to issue licenses “without regard to immigration status.”
The announcement raised a firestorm of opposition that even ignited a debate among Democratic presidential candidates in Philadelphia, when opponents attacked Hillary Clinton for being unclear whether she supported the move or opposed it.
After a near-mutiny by County and DMV clerks statewide, suggestions that New York State driver’s licenses would no longer be acceptable as security identification in airports and the threat of a lawsuit by Republican legislators, Spitzer developed a three-tier license plan in late October, after a meeting with U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.
That proposal would have DMV issuing one license for people who could not produce a Social Security number or “letter of ineligibility” from Social Security, one for citizens which would satisfy the federal “Real ID Act” and one even more stringent, for people who frequently cross the Canadian border, which would satisfy the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
Spitzer’s apparent retreat on the issue cost him the support of some, like Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who supported the original decision and won the support of almost nobody.
“The people who supported him originally are upset and the people who opposed him aren’t appeased,” Silver said on November 8, “So, I don’t know what he accomplished.”
Congressmember Nydia Velasquez said, “Governor Spitzer should be commended for attempting to address an area where the federal government has failed miserably.”
A poll conducted between November 5 and 8 found that only 22 percent of those who had an opinion supported Spitzer on the license plan and 65 percent opposed the three-tier idea. For the first time, Spitzer’s negatives trumped his positives, 46 to 41 percent. Last month, Spitzer was viewed favorably by 54 percent, with only 36 percent unfavorables in a poll by the same group.

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