N.Y. Drops Plan to Issue Driver's Licenses to Illegal Immigrants

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007

New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) yesterday abandoned his plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, saying the federal government's failure to solve the nation's immigration troubles and a poisonous political climate mean that his state "cannot successfully address this problem on its own."

Spitzer told reporters after meeting with members of New York's congressional delegation that although states and cities must deal with the consequences of Washington's failure, pushing forward unilaterally would be counterproductive to his broader agenda in Albany. Spitzer's abrupt withdrawal of a plan rolled out Sept. 21 to bring an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants "out of the shadows" and into compliance with state licensing requirements marked an attempt to cut the losses sustained by him and his party over the past few weeks. Several polls showed that about 70 percent of New Yorkers opposed the plan.

In Washington yesterday, Spitzer redirected blame toward a federal government that "has lost control of its borders," allowed millions of illegal immigrants into the country, "and now has no solution to deal with it."

While he said he continues to believe that the licensing plan was a practical way to increase security and make roads safer, "fear-mongering" forces who equate immigrant dishwashers with Osama bin Laden and a driver's license with "a passport to terror and a license to kill" were too strong. Spitzer called instead for "a comprehensive solution," saying piecemeal reforms are "unacceptable."

"Tomorrow, undocumented workers will not stop driving. The federal government is not going to deport 1 million undocumented workers from New York by the end of this year any more than it did last year or the year before," Spitzer said. "So my challenge to the federal government is this: Fix it. Fix the problem so the states won't face the local impact."

A spokesman for Spitzer said New York would continue a deal struck with the Department of Homeland Security last month to create two other types of driver's licenses.

The governor plans to move forward with an "enhanced" card that would be as secure as a passport and that could be used to cross the border with Canada under requirements of the federal government's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. The pact also calls for New York to adopt stricter security requirements for all driver's licenses used for federal purposes, such as boarding airplanes, but only after federal "Real ID" regulations are issued and New York's legislature and others are heard from, the spokesman said.

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