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Debate Over Spitzer Driver’s License Order Goes Into High Gear

October 16, 2007

Albany, NY — Monday marked another round of heated debate over Governor Spitzer's plan to make it easier for immigrants to obtain their New York driver's licenses. In one room, a state committee heard testimony dominated by opponents, who claim making it easier for undocumented immigrants to drive flies in the face of the state's post-9/11 security precautions.

Next door, however, Sister Maureen Joyce of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, joined representatives of about 30 religious and civic groups to argue that New Yorkers should not let the state's immigration polices be driven by fear.

"Am I against a day laborer having the opportunity to drive a car and take their children to the doctor, or to school? I mean, that's what people are saying they're against!"

The Spitzer order would end a rule that requires applicants to submit their Social Security number to get a driver's license. Families of 9/11 victims were among those opposing the driver's license change on security grounds, but Javier Valdes with the New York Immigration Coalition feels it would improve public safety, by adding hundreds of thousands of currently undocumented immigrants to the driver's license database.

"We are all better off when we encourage people to come out of the shadows, get licensed, get insured -- making sure that every single resident of New York State is in this database."

One critic went so far as to call the governor’s plan "nutsy," but Joyce says it uses common sense.

"We have more than a million undocumented immigrants here in New York State. They're contributing to the quality of life; and not to have them have the opportunity to have a driver's license, that form of identification, really just drives them further underground."

Mayor Bloomberg raised questions about the plan's impact on a person's ability to clear airport security using a New York license, although he said the final call is up to the Governor.

Michael Clifford/John Robinson, Public News Service - NY