Sunday, October 28, 2007

Driving in New York Part II: A License that Marks You as Undocumented

Spitzer has negotiated with the NY legislature and with Michael Chertoff and has come up with a license for undocumented drivers. Only thing is... the license is not like everyone elses. It won't work to board planes or entering government facilities..

The new license plan has not been welcomed by pro-immigration groups: "...advocates for immigrants said the multi-tiered system of identification and the clear marking of one license as “not valid for federal purposes” would stigmatize those who carry it and could potentially make the police suspicious..."

In fact, clerks from two New York counties actually stated that they would report those who could not prove residency. It doesn't sound like such a good deal if applying for a license could bring an ICE agent to one's door.

However, this latest round of drivers license negotiations is no surprise considering our current xenophobic environment.
October 28, 2007
Spitzer Tries New Tack on Immigrant Licenses
New York Times


ALBANY, Oct. 27 — In a major shift, Gov. Eliot Spitzer is backing off his plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain the same kind of driver’s licenses as other New Yorkers, after weeks of furor over the proposal.

Instead, the governor said on Saturday, illegal immigrants in the state would be able to obtain a license that would permit them to drive but would not be accepted as identification to board planes or cross borders.

Other New Yorkers who can prove that they are legal residents of the United States would be eligible for federally recognized ID cards. These would serve as driver’s licenses and would be accepted as identification for a number of purposes, including boarding planes and entering federal facilities.

The move followed a wave of criticism over the governor’s proposal, with many Democrats warning that Mr. Spitzer had put the state party in political peril. The new plan also reflects the increasingly complicated security requirements that have been developed by the federal government since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The plan will probably do little if anything to quell the controversy over the issue, as people on both sides of the debate in New York expressed concern about it on Saturday.

And the State Legislature, which has expressed concern about any extension of licenses to illegal immigrants, would probably be required to provide the funds for the new system, which is expected to be costly.

And even though Mr. Spitzer announced his new plan at a news conference in Washington with Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Chertoff explicitly did not condone the move by New York and some other states to allow illegal immigrants to apply for any kind of driver’s license.

“I don’t endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally, but federal law does allow states to make that choice,” Mr. Chertoff said in a statement. “What we can do is insist that licenses that do not meet federal requirements be clearly so labeled. New York has agreed to do that.” Still, he said the plan in total “represents a major step forward for security, both for New York and for the country.”

In an interview, the governor called the new plan “the perfect resolution” and said it was “not at all a shift” from what he had previously laid out.

Under the plan, New Yorkers who are here legally can obtain a federally recognized identification card known as a Real ID. The highly secure identification card is expected to be phased in nationwide by 2013, but would be introduced in New York next year. It could be used for identification to board domestic flights instead of a passport.

In addition, for frequent border crossers, like residents near the Canadian border, an even more secure license could be used to cross borders as well as board planes. This license, almost a substitute for a passport, would comply with the stricter requirements of a program called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and would require applicants to prove they are citizens.

The most limited class of license, available to both citizens and illegal immigrants, would not require proof of legal residency. This final kind of license would have a lower fee than the other licenses, would be demarcated “not valid for federal purposes,” or some similar designation, and could not be used to board planes or cross borders.

Citizens will have to apply at the Department of Motor Vehicles for the first two kinds of licenses, but could potentially continue to renew by mail for the third kind.

“This is the perfect policy outcome,” the governor said. “You get Real ID, which Congress has determined is the right security measure, you get driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, which I believe is the right policy at every level, and we are getting the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.” Mr. Spitzer insisted that his plan was not a compromise with the federal government.

Yet he and Mr. Chertoff both made it clear that several related issues had been resolved at the same time, suggesting horse-trading between Albany and Washington over the thorny issues of illegal aliens, national identification cards and easy crossing of the New York-Canadian border.

Mr. Spitzer stressed that the agreement was the result of an “evolution” in talks between New York and the Department of Homeland Security over how to define and implement the Real ID program. Only eight states do not require drivers to prove legal status to obtain driver’s licenses: Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Under Mr. Spitzer’s plan, New York is likely to become one of the first states to offer the new federal license; it intends to start as soon as the middle of next year. The governor had previously opposed granting two classes of driver’s license right away, but did not rule out eventually creating a second class of license that would comply with new federal Real ID regulations. By moving up the timetable for complying with the federal license, after two weeks of negotiations with Mr. Chertoff, the governor said he was getting a better outcome, and he emphatically denied he was shifting course.

The Spitzer administration emphasized that there would not be a special class just for illegal immigrants, saying that some citizens who did not travel often might opt for the cheaper class of license. However, advocates for immigrants said the multi-tiered system of identification and the clear marking of one license as “not valid for federal purposes” would stigmatize those who carry it and could potentially make the police suspicious. .

Mr. Spitzer’s move displeased some people on both sides of the debate.

Frank Merola, the clerk in Rensselaer County who said he would refuse to carry out the governor’s policy, said that the latest twist was “a sign of desperation.”

“No matter how he wants to cut this into different pieces, he’s still giving licenses to people who are here illegally,” he added.

Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, who had supported the governor’s initial policy, expressed disappointment. “That’s a position that, initially, many of the advocates and myself opposed, a two-tier,” he said. “It’s separate, but certainly not equal.”

Among other things, he and other advocates have worried that creating a separate class of license that illegal immigrants could obtain would make them fearful of doing so, lest they attract attention to their status.

“I think the administration could have handled this a little bit better,” Mr. Espaillat added.

But Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, chairwoman of the New York State Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, said in a statement that the new plan “not only satisfies his promise of fairness to the immigrant community but ensures that New York has a driver’s license that is nationally recognized as the most secure system in the country.”

Bill Sherman, the chief of staff for the Assembly Republican leader, James N. Tedisco, said, “today’s flip-flop by Governor Spitzer shows his policy was wrong.”

He said any plan to offer illegal immigrants a license was reason for concern. “We’re still asking the governor to delay any changes to the policy until everything is sorted out,” he said.

The governor faced a firestorm of criticism both from Republicans and from within his own party since he unveiled his policy last month. More than a dozen county clerks, who operate Department of Motor Vehicles offices upstate, have refused to carry out the policy, even though they are considered agents of the governor’s administration.

Last week, in Erie and Niagara Counties, the clerks — including a Democratic appointee of the governor’s — even said they would report those who could not prove residency to the local sheriff.

James Risen contributed reporting from Washington.

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