Illegals OK'd to drive in N.Y.
By Joseph Curl Washington Times
October 20, 2007
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has started a major political fight over immigration by ordering state officials to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens, prompting at least one county legislature to defy the executive order and pushing toward a showdown in court.
The embattled governor's order has drawn some acerbic commentary, including a cartoon showing Osama bin Laden as a New York City taxi driver. After spending months trying to deflect charges that he used state police to target the Republican leader of the state Senate, Mr. Spitzer appears eager for a fight over this contentious issue.
"The rabid right that wants to pile on and use this to demagogue the issue will not carry the day in New York state," he said recently. "Those who view this as a political issue once again are taking the state in the wrong direction."
The driver's license issue has once again put the governor at odds with New Yorkers. When New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who inJune abandoned the Republican Party, criticized the order recently, the Democratic governor shot back that the mayor was "dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong."
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani joined the list of opponents this week. "Governor Spitzer should not give licenses to illegals," he told the Republican Jewish Coalition on Tuesday. "It doesn't make sense."
The issue heated up late last week, when the Monroe County legislature defied the governor and ordered its county clerk to require anyone seeking a driver's license to provide a valid Social Security number. The decision runs counter to Mr. Spitzer's order, in which illegal aliens with valid foreign passports would be eligible to obtain a state driver's license.
Again, Mr. Spitzer was defiant: "I hate to say it — the clerks have to enforce it," he said. "The clerks who issue driver's licenses are agents of the state. They do not make state law on this. State government does."
In another move, 29 clerks, all but one a Republican, voted to oppose the plan, with 13 vowing to directly disobey the governor, even if ordered to comply. The clerks said their offices would be hard-pressed to determine the legality of applicants.
The issue has prompted high-powered dissent, including on Capitol Hill. Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, New York Republican, has denounced the order as "bad policy exacerbating our broken immigration system."
"Those who have come to the United States illegally should not be rewarded with a New York state driver's license," he said.
John F. Lehman, a former Navy secretary who served on the September 11 commission, called the governor's decree "absurd."
"It's a perfect formula for al Qaeda. They won't be able to resist it. They will be able to come to New York," he said. "It's going to become a magnet to lawbreakers because the surrounding states will adhere to the federal standards."
Critics say the credibility of a New York driver's license could be called into question in other states, because applicants would not be required to prove that they have a Social Security number.
The issue began in July 2006, when an appeals court ruled that the state could have wider latitude in issuing driver's licenses. Republican Gov. George E. Pataki decreed that immigrants would need to prove they were in the United States legally before getting licenses. During the gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Spitzer vowed to change that. With the Republican-led Senate adamantly opposed to any change, the governor bypassed the Legislature by issuing an executive order.
The plan is supposed to go into effect in December, but the Senate's Republican majority has pledged to override Mr. Spitzer's order in an emergency session Oct. 22.
The public is opposed to Mr. Spitzer's plan as well, a recent poll shows.
A Zogby survey of 718 likely voters in New York found that 65 percent of the state's voters are against the proposal. The poll, taken Oct. 11-15, showed that nearly half — 47 percent — of Democrats oppose the plan, compared with 92 percent of Republicans.