Sunday, October 21, 2007

A New Third Rail For Governors

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer has found a new way to ruffle feathers in his state. He recently announced that New York should and would issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. He didn't bother warning the legislature about the announcement so even Democrats were taken by surprise. The howling must have been audible to all but the heaviest of California sleepers, according to this editorial in today's NY Times.

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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I heard from Westchester County, NY: two Mexican/Central American groundskeepers in traffic court: one with a license: $250 fine.
One without a license: $35 fine. I don't know how true this is.
Two points: judges need their lawns cut, and nobody in tony Westchester does it themselves,and the law will make the driving public more accountable because there will be less excuse for not having a license.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who lives in "tony Westchester" (hint: it's not all Scarsdale), I would like to know more about the facts of the cases, Larry, such as where the decision was rendered and the circumstances.

My experience is that there is a lot of anti-immigrant feeling here in Westchester (even in the poorer areas, like my small city), so the idea that someone who's an illegal immigrant would get a break because the judges aren't going to cut their own grass seems a bit . . .specious.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Nora, I didn't mean it to appear that way. My brother does the statuary conservation for Pepsico, in Purchase. He knows very well the guy that owns the groundskeeping company, the supervisors, and much of the crew. They're all licensed, and the operation is totally on the up-and-up. Most of the supervisors and all of the crew are Mexican/Central American. My brother and the grounds crew closely work around each other, they work out of the smae barn. They take care of the grass when he erects scaffolding, he repairs the statue bases when they run their lawnmowers into them. I believe he heard the story from one of the supervisors who was in the traffic court. The point was that once you become legitimate within the system, the system holds your legitimacy over your head, and can extract more from you. This is what Spitzer wants, for the state to have control over its driving public. That's perfectly reasonable. Now the speed trap outside Rye...

11:43 PM  

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