New York governor drops driver’s license proposal for illegal immigrants

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New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced this week that he was dropping his proposal to provide illegal immigrants in the state with driver’s licenses.

“I am not willing to fight to the bitter end on something that will not ultimately be implemented,” the Democrat governor told the New York Times. “We also have an enormous agenda on other issues of great importance to New York State that was being stymied by the constant and almost singular focus on this issue.”

Spitzer’s decision came on the same day a Siena New York Poll showed that seven out of 10 New Yorkers opposed the plan, according to the Wall Street Journal; only 25 percent of voters supported a plan that was endorsed by the Bush administration.

Spitzer’s plan would have created a three-tier license system, one of which would have allowed individuals in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, but they could not use the identification to board airplanes or cross the border, the Journal reported. Supporters of the plan said it would be a useful tool in identifying who is here illegally, according to the Journal.

In related news, Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., introduced a bill this week that would withhold federal highway funds from states that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, the Journal reported; Fossella’s bill would reduce the state’s highway funding by 2 percent beginning in 2010, increasing to 4 percent by 2011, and to as much as 8 percent by 2014. The bill has five cosponsors – all Republicans – and the proposal, circulated by Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, has the consent of party leaders, according to the newspaper.

Fossella’s bill would repeal Section 202(d) of the REAL ID Act, which creates a loophole by allowing states to issue noncompliant licenses as long as they are not used for federal identification purposes. By repealing that section, every license issued by a state – even tiered licenses like those proposed by Spitzer – must be REAL ID-compliant.

New York would have lost nearly $31 million in highway funding in 2010 – and as much as $127 million by 2016 – if Spitzer’s plan had been implemented.

“Every driver’s license in this country should be safe, secure and tamper-proof,” Fossella said. “It makes no sense in this day and age to issue licenses that fail to meet the highest security standards. This creates serious security risks at a time when our nation in fighting a war against terrorists. There is no good that can be gained from giving a driver’s license to anyone who wants one, especially in light of Senate hearings that revealed individuals who boarded planes or bought guns using this documentation.”

The REAL ID Act requires participating states to issue standardized, electronically readable driver’s licenses that meet federal antiterrorist standards by May 2008.