Spitzer on the Rocks


Speaking at the Center on Law and Security at NYU Law School last Friday, New York State Governor Spitzer announced the endorsement from Richard Clarke for his plan to start providing illegal aliens with driver’s licenses from. Spitzer’s last minute decision to ask NYU to play host was likely because the Center’s Executive Director, Karen Greenberg served as co-chair to Spitzer’s Homeland Security transition committee. Given the year Spitzer has had, he needs all the friends and support he can find.
Spitzer does not seem fazed that 70% of New York State voters reject his proposal. He has the support of most Democrats in the NY State Assembly but faces harsh criticism and opposition from the majority of Republicans in the Assembly. This week the State Senate passed a vote (39-17) that would overturn Spitzer’s policy.
Spitzer has asked Democrats and Republicans to “set aside the demagoguery surrounding the national immigration debate and pragmatically evaluate this important policy for its impact on the safety and security of New Yorkers.” But Spitzer must surely recognize that immigration is one of the most divisive political issues and intrinsically tied to security. Why would he think it necessary to announce endorsements of the plan so publicly when he knows that the majority of people are already so opposed to it?

In fact, in 2003 former Governor Pataki instituted the very requirement Spitzer is trying to eliminate (the DMV requirement that applicants prove their immigration status). In contrast to Spitzer, Pataki implemented his change with no public announcement. Granted Pataki’s plan had nothing to do with immigration, it was merely a way to track Social Security numbers for the purpose of improving the collection of child support payments. It’s still hard to believe Spitzer couldn’t he have thought of a better way to document illegal immigrants. Under Spitzer’s plan, the DMV estimates 300,000 to 600,000 unlicensed residents would be eligible to apply for licenses. That’s a lot of new drivers on the streets of New York.
I am not anti-immigration but do think Spitzer, as a former Attorney General should be advocating how to facilitate and give rights to legal immigrants not putting illegal immigrants behind the wheels of cars. And what about New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to get more cars off the road in an effort to decrease congestion and pollution? There must be a better and more secure way of tracking illegal immigrants than giving them licenses (and the mobility) to then get in a car and disappear to who knows where. And not to mention, will all of these new drivers really be eligible for car insurance?
Yes, from a law enforcement perspective allowing more people to register for driver’s licenses provides a better way to track and identify people who otherwise become lost in the system. Even Hillary Clinton, who was avoiding comment on the controversial and highly political issue, was recently quoted:

I know exactly what Governor Spitzer’s trying to do and it makes a lot of sense, because he’s trying to get people out of the shadows. He’s trying to say, “O.K., come forward and we will give you this license.” But without federal policy in effect, people will come forward and they could get picked up by I.C.E. tomorrow.

This debate is moving outside Albany and into the national arena and has the potential to become a federal issue. But is the federal government really ready to take it on? The question for Spitzer is why now and why so publicly? Is it just a Hail Mary pass at taking on security? Or is the timing of the release aimed at distracting the people of New York and the rest of the country from Spitzer’s own staff who can’t seem to stay out of trouble? It will be interesting to see this all play out and how others (New York officials, presidential candidates and even international figures) might begin to weigh in on the issue. Despite his endorsements in high places, it doesn’t look like the train carrying Spitzer’s plan is moving too quickly (licensed conductor or not).
–Jennifer Buntman


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