N.Y. Unveils Plan to Give Illegal Immigrants Drivers’ Licenses

September 24, 2007

New York State officials say a plan to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants with valid foreign passports will enhance security by creating records of their identities. But critics say those records could compromise security instead.

New York has between 500,000 and 1 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom drive without licenses and car insurance or with fake licenses, Gov. Eliot Spitzer said in announcing the plan Friday. He said it would bring “people out of the shadows” into American society.

“They no longer need to hide and pretend they are not here,” Spitzer said. “We will not become part of what is propagated on the federal level — that if we don’t admit they are here, then we can somehow not provide services. That is bad policy.”

The shift in policy is geared toward increasing security and reducting insurance premiums for all New York drivers by an anticipated total of $120 million a year, said state Motor Vehicles Commissioner David Swarts.

Under the new policy, immigrants — regardless of their status — will be permitted to provide a current, verifiable foreign passport in applying for a license. The policy will be phased in, beginning in December.

The change drew the scorn of some Republican lawmakers from New York. Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-N.Y., said the new policy “undermines the preventive measures that protect our country from national security threats.” The Sept. 11 hijackers had licenses that helped them rent cars and open bank accounts, he noted.

Kuhl also predicted the license policy would encourage people “to flood New York State,” taxing its social services, schools, and hospitals.

But Michael Balboni, New York’s homeland security head, said the new system would improve security because it creates public records that law enforcement agents and others can use to ensure true identities.

“What we are driving towards is the crucial concept in security: One person, one license,” Balboni said.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, called the new policy a victory for immigrants.

She said immigrant New Yorkers who could not get licenses had a difficult time making it to work and getting children to school.

Similar policies have been adopted in Utah, New Mexico and other states.

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