N.Y. Will Offer Secure Driver's Licenses to Citizens

Associated Press
Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Bush administration and New York announced an agreement yesterday to create a generation of super-secure driver's licenses for U.S. citizens, but also to allow illegal immigrants to get a version.

New York is the largest state to sign on so far to the government's post-Sept. 11 effort to make identification cards more secure. The agreement with the Department of Homeland Security will create a three-tiered license system.

Under the compromise, New York will produce an "enhanced driver's license" that will be as secure as a passport. It is intended for people who will soon need to meet such ID requirements, even for a short drive to Canada.

A second version of the license will meet the new federal standards of the Real ID Act. That law was designed to make it much harder for illegal immigrants or would-be terrorists to obtain licenses.

A third type of license will be available to undocumented immigrants. New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) has said that this ID will make the state more secure by bringing those people "out of the shadows" and into American society, and will lower auto insurance rates.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he is not happy that New York intends to issue IDs to illegal immigrants. But he said there is nothing he can do to stop it.

"I don't endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally, but federal law does allow states to make that choice," Chertoff said.

Arizona, Vermont and Washington state previously agreed to the federally approved secure licenses. The issue is pressing for border states, where new and tighter rules are soon to go into effect for crossings.

GOP Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, who represents the Buffalo suburbs, said he fears that Spitzer "is taking this state down a risky path" by giving any kind of license to illegal immigrants.

Officials would not say whether the undocumented-immigrant license could be used by local law enforcement as probable cause to detain someone suspected of being in the United States illegally.

New York has as many as 1 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are driving without a license and car insurance or with fake driver's licenses, Spitzer said in September.

Chertoff, meanwhile, lashed into his own employees for staging a phony news conference at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The agency arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of reporters Tuesday and question Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., the deputy director, about assistance to victims of wildfires in Southern California.

"I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government," Chertoff said. "I have made unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinarily poor judgment."

Asked specifically if he planned to fire anyone at FEMA, which is part of his department, Chertoff declined to say, citing personnel rules.

"There will be appropriate discipline," he told reporters.

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