You know, every time we start to develop a soft spot for a politician, he wastes no time in disabusing us of our comfortable illusions. The most recent case in point is New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. After taking flack from the xenophobes for his plan to make driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants, he shared a stage with Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff in Washington Oct. 27 to announce changes to the program, bringing it into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act—and creating a special class of licenses for out-of-status immigrants. From NY1, Oct. 29:
Dozens of immigration advocates protested outside Governor Eliot Spitzer’s Midtown office Sunday, enraged by what they see as the governor’s betrayal.
“You have forsaken a practical policy that would have been a benefit for all New Yorkers – for what? For just your own short-sighted political cover,” said S.J. Jung of the Young Korean American Service & Education Center. “Today, New Yorkers are outraged by your flip-flopping and New Yorkers are ashamed to have someone like you as our governor.”
Many of the protestors had supported Spitzer’s previous plan to allow illegal immigrants to apply for the same state driver’s licenses as legal residents. But he faced a wave of criticism by state Republicans who said it would make New York less safe. And Democrats – worried about the potential political fallout – offered only tepid support.
So Saturday, Spitzer announced a deal with the d Department of Homeland Security to create a multi-tiered licensing system, which he previously opposed. Under the plan, illegal immigrants could apply for driver’s licenses that would not be recognized by the federal government – something immigration advocates say would push illegal immigrants farther into – not out of – the shadows.
“We cannot have public safety when you carve out a million people from the public safety role and system and have them stigmatized with a big scarlet letter,” said Chung-Wa Hung of the New York Immigration Coalition.
Legal residents would be able to apply for a federally approved license with more stringent requirements as part of the federal Real ID Act. Residents in Northern and Western New York could get a third kind of license that would allow them to cross the Canadian border without their passports.
Spitzer says the plan will create the most secure licensing program in the country, but critics say he’s throwing his support behind a national ID program and further enflaming anti-immigration sentiment.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who previously expressed concerns about the governor’s original plan – called Spitzer’s move a step in the right direction, but if anything, it has only added fuel to the heated debate on the issue.
See our last post on the immigration crackdown.