A New Third Rail For Governors
In an effort to make New York’s highways safer, Gov. Eliot Spitzer has stepped in the middle of a bitter national argument about immigration. Opposition to the governor’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants — from New York legislators, presidential candidates and even some in the news media — has ranged from skeptical warnings to something close to demagoguery. What is getting lost in all the fury is that Mr. Spitzer’s plan is actually a practical step to make the state and the streets safer.
The nation is badly in need of immigration reform, but that reform must come from Washington. What governors can do in the meantime is to make the best of a badly flawed system. In this case, Mr. Spitzer is trying to make certain there is a safe driver behind the wheel of every car. That is no small matter. More than 40,000 people die in car crashes in the United States every year, more than 3,000 of them in New York State. ...
Critics of Mr. Spitzer’s plan are trying to paint it as a threat to national security. But as the governor outlined in a speech on Friday, there are important ways in which the opposite is true. His plan would give faces and addresses to many of the one million people who are not here legally, who live in the shadows. It would also make it vastly more difficult for someone to get more than one license. Richard Clarke, an adviser under the last four presidents, mostly on national security issues, has said that making driver’s licenses available to immigrants regardless of their legal status would promote security because “it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads." [Emphasis added]
I think the editorialist and Gov. Spitzer are absolutely correct on this issue. There is a legitimate state interest in making certain that those behind the wheel of a car know what they're doing and have proved it. As to the issue of identifying residents of a state for security reasons, perhaps the federal government should be the one to take the lead, but, sadly, neither the last nor this Congress have done anything to accomplish decent and humane immigration reform, so the states have once again had to step in.
Nicely done, Gov. Spitzer.
I suspect that his legislature will be slapping him around for this rather audacious move, but at least the issue will be confronted.